Yerba Buena! None of That Bad Weed

by Marinka on January 17, 2011

Today’s guest post was a surprise for me. I asked Alexandra, aka The Empress, who writes the very funny Good Day, Regular People blog to contribute a post in support of my depression-lite, but I had no idea that she was going to delight me with a child of immigrants story.  As a fellow survivor, the tales of culture clashes are among my very favorite.  And Her Empressness did not disappoint.
So, enjoy and don’t forget to follow The Empress on Twitter.
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Like many children of immigrant parents, my childhood is one full of what more traditional folk call “colorful stories.” Oh, yes, I have a trunkful of colorful stories.

The child of immigrant parents grows up in a home where one foot is in their new country, the other stubbornly rooted in the old country. When my 5 siblings and I would come home after school, with that first step through our front door and into our house, we were teleported in a matter of a second, back to the old country. You’d close that door behind you, and the United States of America, ceased to exist.

In my case, welcome to Colombia, baby.

The immigrant family usually includes extended family under one roof. With us, it was my non-English speaking grandmother. My grandmother never really understood that we were in a new country. She just came along for the plane ride, and kept her suitcase packed, for when her visit here was over.

In the small village from where my grandmother came, she was one of the revered few who knew the ways of natural plant remedies. I’m speaking of allllllll the plant types that Colombia is known for. In my family of 2 brothers, and 3 sisters, we grew up not knowing how unusual and different life was outside of our home.

Until the day arrived, and we were outside of our home, with the beginning of school.

My siblings and I thought everyone lived as we did. When we had an upset stomach, my grandmother would treat it with “Yerba Buena.” Literal translation: “good weed.”  I’d go to school, with a thermos full of “mate,” or “good weed” drink. My schoolmates (I had no friends…weird wasn’t cool in 1966) would ask what I was drinking. Knowing they did not know Spanish, I’d say “good weed drink.”  I think my family personally was responsible for giving life to all the Colombian stereotypes that my classmates had heard.

Back in Colombia, my grandmother was entrusted with preparing the town’s chicha. Chicha is a drink that is prepared and allowed to ferment for a lunar cycle (that’s what the recipe calls for) and includes cannabis or coca leaves. It is drunk in large quantities for celebrations, or in preparation for a journey of 2 days or more across the mountains. Preparing chicha is considered an art, and the person who makes the town’s chicha is respected. It is corked for 28 days and on the 29th day: uncorked and Happy Days!!

I tell you all this to explain the following snippet of a childhood day, in which my 5 siblings and I became the first known latin gang in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the year 1966:

We always had headaches as children (tension, anyone?) and my grandmother would remedy this in the following manner. She’d take an orange, peel it, place the orange peelings on one of her brightly colored Andean scarves,  and tie the blazing colored bandana around our heads, just barely above our eyelids. Supposedly, the acid in the orange peels was supposed to do something like shrink the swollen blood vessles in our throbbing heads…but what really happened instead was that we’d all go outside to play looking like little midget street gang bangers.  We’d go knocking on neighbor’s doors, with our heads tilted up so we could see out of our red and orange bandanas, orange peelings slipping down, the smell of citrus fruit attracting all the gnats and wasps around our heads, and ask children to play with us. Huh, no one was ever available.

We were the neighborhood oddity. I remember a mother’s reply when a “normal” child asked her who we were and why we had scarves with oranges tied around our heads. She replied, “migrant workers from somewhere.”

I have so many stories from my childhood that I call funny stories. I tell them to our 3 children, and they laugh. I can either paint a picture of feeling lost and alone and rejected, or I can laugh and be thankful that the childhood I had was one that has enabled me to post over 300 posts on my blog, and I’m not even close to being out of stories.

When given a choice between laughter or tears, I always choose laughter.

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{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 12:17 am

Marinka, the delight was all mine. I’ve just come one step closer to contact with Awesome Dude: my true blogging life goal.

Seriously, thank you for the opportunity here, and thank you for being a fellow sharer and appreciater of Growing Up Immigrant Style.

Nothing like it.

Love and Peace. And Gratitude.

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Cheryl @ Mommypants January 17, 2011 at 12:28 am

I love this story, Alexandra! I also love how you choose to remember it; as funny blog fodder rather than a sad, lonely time.

Hugs to you!

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Momma Fargo January 17, 2011 at 12:40 am

Loved the guest post! Awesome!

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linlah January 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

I read that as “midget workers from somewhere” and that just made the story go full circle. I need new glasses.

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Leslie Limon
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:04 am

LOVE this post! I felt the same way, living in the States with my Mexican grandparents. And I still feel that way, only slightly different as a Gringa living and raising a family in Mexico!

And just so you know, the Mexican way to cure a headache is to splash rubbing alcohol on your face, then wrap your entire head in a bath towel. I’m not really sure how that works, but I’m sure it’s the fumes from the alcohol that knock you out, then when you wake up, you’ve forgotten all about your headache! LOL! :)

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Oh! YES! the rubbing alcohol. Bottles all over the house, JustInCase.

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Trish@Show and Tell
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:31 am

What a wonderful rich history to pass on to your kids.

I wish I could be teleported somewhere when I walk through my front door. Like to an island in the Maldives!! (Of course, I’d also like to pack some “Good Weed” to take with me).

x

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helena
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:47 am

Alexandra, I didn’t know it was possible to love you more.

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

xo

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brian January 17, 2011 at 6:51 am

smiles. see that is why i would never mess with you….street gang on the good weed and all…weird is in now so you good esse…

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Cheryl
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 7:09 am

This explains so very much. I wonder why my husband never told me about your gangsta family. He must have met at least one of you.

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Awesome dude January 17, 2011 at 7:39 am

I liked this “one foot here and another back home” expression, never heard it before.

Solzhenitsin last work was called “200 years together” claiming that Jews lived in Russia for over 200 years and adapted very well, but not really assimilated.

I just wonder, if you really have to assimilate.

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 19, 2011 at 12:39 am

Oh, yes!! A comment from Awesome Dude.

Happy sighs.

Thank you, Marinka. I am no longer 6 degrees of separation.

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ChiTown Girl January 17, 2011 at 7:48 am

Loved this! I, too, am first generation American, so this really hit home, and just cracked me up!

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Theta Mom
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 8:36 am

“I can either paint a picture of feeling lost and alone and rejected, or I can laugh and be thankful that the childhood I had was one that has enabled me to post over 300 posts on my blog,” <—–now that is the road to take mama! So glad you are able to laugh and share this with your children!

xoxo

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candace January 17, 2011 at 8:43 am

Made me LOL for real!

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Erin I'm Gonna Kill Him
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 8:47 am

I love Alexandra’s stories about immigrant life. Her Thanksgiving storiy about her grandma attempting an American feast is so touching. Her grandma seems so wonderful and someone I’d have liked to have known…for reasons beyond good weed. ;) columbian abuela dealers are so hard to find.

Empress, if ever in NYC there’s a good restaurant called Yerba Buena. You should go.

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Klz January 17, 2011 at 8:49 am

You always make me laugh you lovely crazy woman

Weird is always cool in my book

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Alex@LateEnough
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 8:51 am

I love this line: ‘I think my family personally was responsible for giving life to all the Colombian stereotypes that my classmates had heard.’ If only I’d had a Colombian grandma to blame my high school ‘water bottle’ incidents on.

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Merri Ann January 17, 2011 at 8:54 am

Be grateful that you have the excuse of being an immigrant … my parents were doing things like this and they are 2nd generation American.

My entire extended family lives in Milwaukee … boy do I have stories about life growing up in Milwaukee from my parents …

Great post !!!

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Missy @ Wonder, Friend
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

You have a gift – the gift of recognizing the funny. Thanks for this story. I will carry with me the mental image of you and your siblings as a tiny Latin street gang – hysterical.

Where can I get some of that chicha?

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OHmommy
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

So. Awesome.

In junior high my parents let me chew on a coca leaf on our family vacay to Peru. I came back to junior high telling everyone I tried it. I didn’t get the response I was hoping for.

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Motpg January 17, 2011 at 9:14 am

Wonderfully funny post! I’m thankful that you are thankful. Otherwise just look what we would be missing : )

You so should have grown up in my neighborhood. ” good weed drink”, you would have been the most popular girl in school!

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Snuggle Wasteland January 17, 2011 at 9:20 am

Life is all about perspective and I love yours. So much better to laugh than cry and you can be assured that we are laughing along with you.
xoxo

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liz January 17, 2011 at 9:34 am

I love stories like this! My mom lived with her Sicilian-born grandmother until she got married and moved out. My great-grandma would do things like give her spoonfuls of red wine everyday because she insisted it was necessary for a good appetite and good health.

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joann mannix January 17, 2011 at 9:36 am

Empress,
The image of you as this little girl, head tilted up, peering out of your citrus gangsta bandanna just makes me chortle with laughter.

And it speaks so much of who you are, how you have chosen to remember those times, times that I know were not always full of sunshine and light.

I would have loved to have met your grandmother. I’m infatuated by her. I know, I would have sat by her side, mesmerized by her stories of life.

And speaking of stories, yours are always the best.

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Truthful Mommy
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 9:39 am

Alexandra,
Woman, we have so much in common.My abuelita being more of the “bruja buena” from Mexico. I can’t even count the times she sent me outside with some crazy concoction rubbed on my chest for croup. No way could it just be vicks like normal second generation chicanos, no we had to have something that was gritty and looked like chocolate and smelled like caca. I know there was leaves of herbs in it, but I suspect that there was some kind of caca in it..better not to know. And the bandanas for headaches. I have and still have migranes.Thank God for Imitrex because my childhood was spent in those damn bandanas.My Papi thought that bandana could remedy any headache..with a hefty dose of “herbal” tea . Don;t think he doesn;t still try and tie that sucker on my head if I have a headache in his house. I keep advil on m person at all times.Loved this story. You should write a book. I want to receive the first copy. I always feel like I am talking to an old friend when I read your stories.XO

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Laughing at caca.

Have only heard that word in my house.

Oh, the joy, the joy, of commiseration. xo

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gigi
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 9:39 am

Oh Empress, you never fail to disappoint. You have such great stories and wisdom to share.

You could write a book, you know!

And, when we meet, are you making some chicha for me?

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Lydia January 17, 2011 at 9:41 am

Love this, I’m a fourth generation Mexican American, but those traditions are hard to let go of! I still make yerba beuna tea for my three year old(she’s the only one who drinks it, but she loves it.) And that part about your orange peel bandanas made me laugh. My mom would send me out of the house with a circle of raw tortilla masa stuck to the middle of my forehead whenever I had a headache. Lol, good times,good times.

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

oh dear lord.

and dear god.

Did you get the potato peelings to the temples, too?

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Truthful Mommy
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I just pissed myself reading about the masa in the forehead. I ownder did she give you a topesancho ot make sure it was good and stuck:)BWAHAHA or maybe I shoudl say JAJAJAJAJAJA!!!

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MommyTime
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 9:43 am

This is a great story — and the notion of choosing laughter as the preferred response? Well, I think that seems like the best lesson your children could be learning from all of this.

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Poppy January 17, 2011 at 10:14 am

I’d totally drink the Chicha. Both versions.

Your banana peels reminded me of my dad’s story of how he was in the “One Glove Gang” when he was young. They had such a low budget, they had to share the glove.

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Thought I’d better answer a caucasian commenter, before I get accused of selectively, you know, only talking to my sistahs..

You were randomly chosen.

Go, Poppy!

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Glamamom
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

How do we get our hands on those recipes? Or are you saving them for “The Empress Cooks?”

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Wendi
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 10:17 am

This was a delight. Truly.

And I’m trying the orange peel bandana look the next time I go to a PTA meeting.

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm

You know what’s scary here? That you’re not kidding.

Pix, please.

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Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points January 17, 2011 at 10:17 am

Lovely woman.

I am so gratified that you always choose humor. I know that choice.

And I’m not at all surprised to find that you are one of the forces behind the Great Midwestern Gang Scare of 1966.

Not surprised AT ALL.

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Ally January 17, 2011 at 10:23 am

I love that you choose to laugh – after all, how we look at things is really a choice. It’s never fun as a kid to be weird, but family traditions, stories, or “weirdness” make us who we are! And as an adult, many of them become precious treasures.

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Bossy Betty January 17, 2011 at 10:42 am

Love your perspective and the story too!!!

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CDG January 17, 2011 at 10:43 am

Alexandra, you are just… well… awesome.

The humor… the perspective… the stories.

The closest I can come is my husband’s wacky Woonsocket Quebecois memeres and peperes and matounts (aunts) who speak this kind of French Canadian patois and they cheat at card games no one plays anymore… and most of them were born in Rhode Island to people born in Rhode Island. Where ever the old country is, if it was beloved, it sticks.

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Amanda Hoving January 17, 2011 at 10:56 am

Your stories are always amazing, Empress…and to think they’re all true! What a remarkable life — so glad you’ve chosen to share it~

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Sherri
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

Empress, your stories are always a kick! Sure takes you back to a quite different time in your life, doesn’t it? And being a mother now, can you imagine taking your entire family on a journey to a new country? Grandmother in tow?

In today’s world, the Good Weed Drink would never be allowed at school unless it came in a juice box with a little plastic straw.

Hey, maybe there’s an idea there…

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TheKitchenWitch January 17, 2011 at 11:27 am

“Good weed drink?” That is hilarious! I want more stories about the Colombian gang in Milwaukee! Pure gold.

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Morgan B. January 17, 2011 at 11:29 am

I would think that in 1966 a good weed drink would make you the most popular kid in school. What a bunch of squares.

Great post! I can always count on you for an amusing story and a good laugh.

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annie January 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Empress – I love this story (and all your others). You make me feel so boringly white bread. No wonder I’ve run out of topics already!

Your images of orange filled bandanas made me laugh and brightened an otherwise very grey dreary day – thank you!!

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Nichole
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm

What an amazing story, my beautiful friend.
There are so many things that I admire about you, but your ability to see the positive in a situation tops the list.

Much love to you…

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Mad Woman behind the Blog
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm

300 posts! I have some reading to do!
So love the story, the perspective and the details that made your childhood come to life for me.
And I would have been your friend, I’ve always preferred weird over normal.

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Lu
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

OMG! Is that what’s in chicha? No wonder I have a hard time remembering my childhood. I had no idea, yet I drank it with reckless abandon. I’m shocked I passed first grade. Although, in all fairness, I’m from Costa Rica. We may have made our chicha with grass.

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Ha! These collective Latina comments are making my day! *punching fist in air*

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Truthful Mommy
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Grass chicha?OMG. yeah grass…MARIJUANA grass:)I;m so pissing myself over here! I concur Empress..commiseration!

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Christina
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm

Empress,
I had no idea! What a story of crazy heritage. I long for that at times. My parents never took us to see our grandparents etc. so I feel really detached in that way.
See, there is another reason I love ya, you choose laughter over tears any day!

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Only You January 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Love this, Alexandra!! As a fellow immigrant, I can relate all too well and this just made me laugh! (The doors closing on the US of A the moment you entered home…all the “special” concoctions to relieve one ailment or another…) I can see you writing a collection of essays, all funny and poignant. It would be great!

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Ericka @ Creative Liar
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm

It’s worth the torment for stories like these! Excellent job Alexandra – you writing is stellar!

And this?:

“I tell you all this to explain the following snippet of a childhood day, in which my 5 siblings and I became the first known latin gang in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the year 1966″

So very, very awesome!

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Yuliya
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Tell me something, what was your lovely Colombian family smoking when they picked Milwaukee to relocate to? Imagine what a different life you would have had if they had only picked New York….

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm

But beautiful Yuliya, then I would’ve had IRL friends, and wouldn’t have had to turn to the internet…xo

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Renee
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

I think I’m in love with your grandmother. I love old remedies. And I think most of them actually work for the little everyday feel lousies.
And your growing up life sounds very interesting. And I’m glad you can get a laugh out of it.
Passing the stories to your children also grows a rich history of their ancestry.

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Lady Jennie January 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm

I so so loved this. Every minute. You rock Emp.

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Liz @ Peace, Love & Guacamole
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Priceless!!

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Ashley @ Just Another Mom of 2
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm

You amaze me a little more every time you give a glimpse into what makes you *you*. What an amazing approach to something that many would recall with negativity- instead, you share these insightful views into your past and allow us all to understand something we otherwise might not. Thank you so much for sharing!

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dusty earth mother January 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Okay, Empress, I think I peed my pants a little imagining you trying to get someone to play with you with orange peels tied on your head. And then I teared up. It’s a good thing you’re so stinkin’ cool in your (ahem) slightly-older-hood. You are a gem. Seriously.

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BalancingMama (Julie) January 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I can totally picture the mini street gang! Funny post!

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Charlotte
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Alexandra, I have tears streaming down the sides of my face from the image this conjures up for me–you as a cute little gang member in your citrus bandana. LOVE it.

I think growing up and feeling at all “different” is one of those things that gives us a sense of humor later on in life. I totally get this. My mother used to remedy everything with alcohol: rum and vodka are what I remember primarily. I really think this old-world cures are the ones that work the best!

Thank you for this awesome guest post :)

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vodkamom January 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm

omg that was priceless! I loved it- and that good weed juice? Pour me a shot, would ya?

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Kimberly January 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm

I work in an inner city hospital that caters to a very diverse population. We see a lot of parents using home remedies from their respective countries and I will admit, I thought about trying some ;)

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The Flying Chalupa
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Granted, I don’t know all your immigrant stories, A, but this is one of the funniest. I can just picture you all with your little bandanas, evoking fear and mistrust amongst Milwaukee mothers everywhere.
Love it.

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Sharon January 17, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Okay seriously, that was a great story! Laughter is the best. I can see how choosing to laugh is much more theraputic than tears. I do love this story.

Now, what do I do with this stomach ache I have? Can we consult the Empress grandmother?

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Varda (SquashedMom)
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Love this story, Alexandra. What made me different was different than for you (much older bohemian/hippie parents in the 1960s conformist suburbs) but still, I know how that feels.

And that choice about how to take things? Oh, yeah. I think I even titled a post once: “Laughing beats the alternative.”

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Alexandria
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm

That was such a funny story!

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Ann's Rants
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm

You are such a wonderful story teller. I’m picturing all of us in this comment section seated on a circle rug, twirling our hair–mesmerized.

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Mrs.Mayhem
Twitter:
January 17, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Yes, yes! Always choose laughter over tears! And I’m so glad you did, with all of these wonderful stories to share.

So, my favorite tea is yerba mate… um, maybe I need to check the ingredient list? hmm.

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Natalie January 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Alexandra…so FUNNY. You can definitely always captivate me with your words!

I try to always choose laughter, too…it’s something I’ve really been working hard on. Thank you for sharing such a cool memory.

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2girlsonabench January 17, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Love the orange peel gang in WI!

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Melissa (Confessions of a Dr.Mom) January 18, 2011 at 12:40 am

I love your point of view and your ability to share these moments of your childhood with love and laughter.

I can visualize all that you have told here and I love that you embrace it and share these stories with your children.

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Leesa January 18, 2011 at 5:20 am

as usual you rock

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tracey January 18, 2011 at 8:57 am

Your grandma knew the best remedies. Why is marijuana still illegal, anyway?

Oh yeah. Big Brother. >:(

The bandanas absolutely cracked me up, though. No pics?

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Vicki
Twitter:
January 18, 2011 at 9:26 am

I love it! Let’s all sit around the campfire and tell childhood stories of woe. Also, I want to try the orange thing because it sounds delicious.

Also, I don’t know if this is just an Eastern European thing or if you guys did this as well, but when I was little and had sunburn or something wrong with the skin on my leg, my mom would make me pee on a cloth, tie the cloth around the leg, wrap it in plastic tightly so it wouldn’t get on the sheets, and sleep that way. Showers and showers and showers later, I am getting closer to being normal.

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Tina @ Life Without Pink January 18, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Alexandria, all I can say is your brilliant!

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Dana @ Bungalow'56
Twitter:
January 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I could see a picture of this in my minds eye. Oh if I were an artist i would paint a picture of this colourful gang. Too funny/sad depending on how many years close you are to the story I guess. Love you a bit more.
Dana

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christy January 18, 2011 at 6:38 pm

What a fantastic guest post! I can just see you all walking around like little orange peel gangstas! So funny!

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Jana @ An Attitude Adjustment
Twitter:
January 18, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Congrats on the guest post, Empress.

Sounds like you have a great book brewing here….

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 20, 2011 at 1:22 am

It could be, couldn’t it? Thank you for the kind encouragement. Means very much to me.

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erin margolin
Twitter:
January 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

Love this post, Alexandra. Witty, warm, and memorable—just like you. Did I ever tell you that my mom grew up in Milwaukee? She went to Whitefish Bay High School….small world.

Picturing you with your orange peels and smiling. You make your memories so tangible!

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alexandra
Twitter:
January 20, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Erin! I must know your family, then. I grew up in shorewood/whitefish bay area.

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Coolwhipmom January 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm

Oh, Empress!! You never fail to impress. You are one of the most amazing storytellers on this planet. Your children are so incredibly lucky. PS I think I may need some of that good weed drink. Sounds useful. No really!

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Reluctant Momma August 12, 2011 at 4:26 am

You are like “Trident Layers”
Layers and Layers of flavor- – -

one is better than the next…love the story and the colorful way you tell it.

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