Drinking Sangria in the New Year

I want to tell you about the worst drink of my life and how much I love you all

I was composing this newsletter in my head yesterday, before the world tripped on the carpet of evil and tumbled into war last night. It seems silly to write. But I still want to tell you about Applebees and sangria and low-stakes horrors unimaginable. Because it was hilarious. And that is reason enough.

On New Year’s Day, a friend and I went to see “Uncut Gems”, which is about 2.5 hours of Adam Sandler yelling. I really liked it. But I was upset that I had been tricked into watching and liking what is essentially a basketball movie.

As a result of the movie, my friend and I had a very serious conversation about where the Sixers were located. Boston? I suggested.



We could Google it?


I agree.

This is how you know you are hanging out with the right person.

After the movie, we decided we needed a drink and some appetizers. But it was New Year’s day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Those of you from bigger cities don’t know what this means, so let me tell you: NOTHING IS OPEN. Nothing has been open all week. For the Christmas holiday, all of Iowa shuts down to drink Busch Light in their homes and get passive aggressively huffed at by relatives who don’t understand why they haven’t found someone nice to date yet.

I had tried to plan in advance. But it’s very hard to do this when local restaurants don’t post their holiday hours and DON’T ANSWER WHEN YOU CALL or Facebook message. All I want to do is give you money in exchange for some booze and a mozzarella stick, why is this so hard?

This is how we found ourselves at 10pm on New Year’s Day at an Applebee’s. To be clear, Olive Garden was our first choice, but it closed at 10.

Sitting at the bar, we knew we wanted mozzarella sticks and nachos. But to drink? This decision was left up to me. And for the rest of my life, I will be haunted by the question, “Why didn’t you just order a beer?”

I instead ordered a white peach sangria.

My thinking was this: Sangria’s are usually pre-made and hard to fuck up. Also, I thought it was on special. I was wrong on all accounts.

What happened was we watched with increasing concern as the bartender pulled out an almost empty bottle of white Barefoot wine and mixed it with Pineapple juice straight from the can and garnished with an orange.

And now, this is where we get fuzzy on the details. Were there any other ingredients mixed inside this drink? Did we see it all? Is it possible, we could have been served something other than cheap ass wine with pineapple juice? Maybe?

But this copycat recipe from the internet, suggests that the only other ingredients would have been 7up and peach schnapps. I was in a sorority, so I can tell you with DEFINITE authority that you notice peach schnapps in a drink. I did not notice it.

I want to tell you how bad this drink was:

It was so bad that it made the drink from college mixed with Kool Aid in that one guys cooler in his closet tasted like Ambrosia.

It was so bad I wished it had been roofied.

It was so bad, I wished I had ordered engine coolant.

Why didn’t I order a beer?

I am one of the biggest trash eaters I know. My favorite late night snack is microwaved frozen White Castle burgers, which I buy from Walgreens 2 for $5, bitches. But even I could not stomach that.

My friend, however, DRANK THE WHOLE THING. He’s dead now. RIP.

He actually suggested we go back and do some further research. Order the “sangria” again, discuss with the bartender what went wrong. Do a forensic analysis. I, for one, want to go back and order a White Russian and watch them just mix some French Vanilla Coffee-mate with Captain Morgan.

In 2019, I published my first book. And I got to go out on a small tour, which was absolutely amazing. I had steeled myself for empty rooms and angry booksellers, but that was not the case. Also, I’m sorry California, but if we aren’t armed and eating tree roots for survival in August, I’m coming your way.

I also did some other things. Here are some highlights.

I’m writing all of this to remind myself. I just turned in two stories that need some extensive editing, which always makes me feel like a fraud and a failure.

But I also thank you all so much. When I started this newsletter in the last days of 2018, I had no idea anyone would read it, much less pay for it. Your support has helped me pay my water bill, when freelance payments ran late. Helped me chip away at the enormous amount of debt I went into to blow up my life. You helped me buy whiskey after I had a week of bomb threats and online hate so intense I thought I was going to get fired.

You have showed up to my events and told me nice things online and too my face. You bought my book and buy me drinks. You click on my links. You RT my work. Some of you have been reading me since I had a mom blog. And it’s all so much. I hope you know how much I appreciate you.

Also, I’m going back to Applebee’s.

The Terry Gross Story

I'll never recover

For a while now, I’ve thought I should share my Terry Gross story. But then I saw the news that Adam Driver walked out on his Terry Gross interview and I thought, IT IS TIME.

I want to be clear. I’m not taking a side here. Most because of all the conversations we’ve had in 2019, I find Driver discourse really really really boring.

But I do love Terry Gross discourse.

So, here we go.

In 2007ish, I went to go hear Terry Gross give a lecture at the local college. For context, you need to know that it had been a hard year. My father-in-law had died. My sisters had been in a car accident and one sister had spent three months at my home learning to walk again. And then, I had a root canal, which my dentist kept diagnosing as a cavity. And so I was dealing with the pain for weeks. Until I finally lost it on him and was like it’s not a cavity! And he took me seriously and was like sure, yeah your tooth is dead who knew?

I do not see that dentist anymore.

Anyway, two days before I yelled at my dentist. I went to hear Terry Gross. At the time, I was a HUGE Fresh Air fan. I listened to every single interview. I studied them. I loved them. I’d think about her questions. She was my MFA instructor in talking to people. So, I was so excited to hear her talk.

Another thing you need to understand. Cedar Rapids has 130,000 people in it and I know a lot of them. Or it feels like that anyway. Walking into a restaurant feels like Dolly Levi walking into a restaurant. So at this event, were not only friends, but neighbors, and co-workers.

It was a lovely lecture. She told stories about crazy interviews. Played audio of people walking out. It was fun. Then came the Q&A.

Every time I raised my hand. Every. Time.

Finally, it came.

“We have time for one last question. Woman in the back with the red sweater.”


I stood up. Was handed a mic. Below is a rendering of what transpired.

Me: You do a lot of interviews with celebrities where you get them to open up beyond the sound bites. I am thinking especially of the interview with Henry Winkler. How do you prepare for those interviews? How do you get people to open up?



Terry: I didn’t interview Henry Winkler that was David Bianculli.

Audience: *audible gasp and nervous laughter*

Me: *slinking down into my seat*


Me *standing up*: Okay, sorry, I apologize but you do it in so many interviews. I’d love to know how you push past those sound bites.

Terry: We are out of time.


For months after I had nightmares that various NPR radio personalities yelled at me.

That’s it. That’s the story.

People I know still remember this moment and bring it up.

It’s been 12 years and I still haven’t recovered.

Thankful for my enemies

More on the GOP

Just another day

Last week, in a subscriber only email, I wrote about how the head of the Iowa GOP screamed at me the first time I met him. To briefly recap: I had no idea who this man was. I’m not new to Iowa, but I am new to my job as a columnist. I’m getting to know all the players here in Iowa as more than just names in a news story.

I went to cover an anti-impeachment rally and the head of Iowa GOP was there, he was leading the rally. During his speech, he immediately singled me out of the crowd and pointed to me and called me fake news and when I turned my phone camera away from him to look at the crowd of counterprotesters, he demanded I turn back towards him. After his speech, he refused to answer questions from me. My colleague had to ask my questions for me.

A month later, I published an op-ed from him and others. My newsletter, was about that weird dynamic. The closeness between people here. How we live together and need each other. I kind of thought it was over.

I should have known better.

Yesterday, I got an email from someone alerting me to the fact that six days after publishing his op-ed, the head of the Iowa GOP was targeting me and my colleagues in a Facebook post. When I clicked on the post, I saw that it included headlines from some of my op-eds and more weirdly, screenshots of some of my tweets with my handle blacked out. He’d clearly been planning this for a while and watching my tweets.

This person is an elected official for his county.

Today, he wrote on Facebook that he tried multiple times to contact the newspaper to air his grievances and ask that we be more fair. This is demonstrably false. He hasn’t contacted us since I’ve been been an employee. Both the editor of my paper and I replied encouraging him to reach out. Also, in regards to balance. The newspaper I work for has had a historically conservative editorial board. They endorsed Romney and Grassley and well, so many many Republicans for so long. So this is just the actual fake news.

This is where we need to back up, to talk about the Des Moines Register. This summer the Register published a profile of an accidental local hero, Carson King, who raised a lot of money for the University Hospital off of a beer money sign gone viral. Part of the reporting process for the story, revealed some racists tweets authored by King. The reporter, Aaron Calvin asked King about the Tweets. And King held a press conference, before the story even ran, to admit to the tweets and apologize for them.

There was immediate backlash at the Register, specifically targeting Calvin. People all over the state, including elected officials joined in the pile on, claiming King was the victim of the media. Calvin’s own bad Tweets were used against him. Calvin lost his job and had to move out of his apartment because of the death threats. (Read Calvin’s story here.)

When I saw the post with the screenshots of my tweets, I thought of Calvin. I thought of how he was targeted and lost his job. I’m sure that’s what is happening here.

This is the point. It’s the Trumpian playbook. Target a vulnerable journalist. Attack them. Discredit them. Fire up the base. It’s a deeply cynical political theater that engages in attacks in order to bolster it’s victim mentality. It’s a bad game when it puts people’s lives in danger and also, it’s not a game at all. My life and my career are not a game. You picked the wrong lady.

Destroying journalists to hype up your base is thoughtless, reckless, dangerous for the journalists and short sighted, because who is going to publish your op-eds when we are gone? Social media only works if you can drum up a base, but how do you get that base in the first place? When everyone in your aging party dies off, how do you replace them? How do you make your case?

The end game here is thoughtless, cynical, and callous.

But it also shows what’s happening on the ground in the middle of the country. It’s one thing when the President attacks the New York Times and they get more subscribers. They have resources. They have big names. But even they are skittish. And if Dean Baquet is skittish and placating, imagine how the editor of one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Iowa feels? My paper, we live and die by the small handful of subscribers we get a week. The Washington Post the New York Times, they aren’t the war. We are. Local news is the battleground for the heart and hope of America. And this battle is being fought by reporters who are poorly paid and constantly attacked and left out to dry for doing their jobs.

You want to know why does Steve King keep getting elected? Look at the circulation of the newspaper there. (By the way, the newspaper is great, I am not attacking them.) Who is watching the news? Who is reading it? Who is holding King accountable?

Honestly, I deserve a better enemy than the Iowa GOP. But if this is the fight they want, they picked the wrong person.

Also, a note: I chose not to name the person in this newsletter for many reasons. And I do not want anyone going to attack him or yell at him, it only feeds the victim mentality. So, please please please don’t go after him. THANK YOU!! I love you all. Have a good weekend.

Down with the GOP? You know me

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