Mention Cake First

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It’s as vital as the air I breathe:  CAKE.  Very early in life, I internalized the message that cake was equivalent to joy, happiness, satisfaction, togetherness.  Maybe it was the time my cousin’s Rancher Wife friend rescued me from the terrifying scene of watching Mr. Bird saw down the bull’s horn before it blinded him.  My other cousin, Patricia, was there to help Mr. Bird take care of the bull.  They left Pete and me (ages 6 and 8) in the farm truck (the “anchor”) and tied the bull to it and began sawing.  I began screaming hysterically immediately, so Mrs. Bird came and got me and took me inside to the warm kitchen.  She wiped my tears and opened her deep freezer (what a fascinating box of frozen surprises it was!) and pulled out a slice of carefully wrapped homemade coconut cake.  We sat in her small but cozy kitchen in the warmth and slowly the cake soothed the trauma of thrashing around in a truck tied to an angry and uncooperative bull with my cousin, Pete!  Mrs. Bird taught me that day that I was better suited for the kitchen than the ranch!

So, today, I am sharing with ya’ll one of my favorite Southern Cake recipes, Apple Dapple Cake.  The photo does not do it justice – it should be covered in brown sugar-iced fresh pecans, but where was I going to get fresh pecans during an ice storm this weekend? Give yourself and your family a big treat today and grab some delicious apples, peel and dice them and create the world’s most delicious cake.  And if it is work you must today, sweeten the evening with my favorite solution to any and all things intolerable:  CAKE.

Recipe courtesy of My Momma, Miss Rhetta

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, chopped
  • 3 cups tart apples, chopped
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

FROSTING

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS

  1. Beat eggs and mix with sugar, oil and vanilla.
  2. Combine flour, salt and baking soda and add to egg mixture.
  3. Fold in apples and pecans.  Pour into greased and floured tube cake pan.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
  5. For frosting:  Bring brown sugar, butter and milk to a boil.  Boil only 2 1/2 minutes.  Cool and spread on cake.

Eat it, You’ll Love It, and it will DRIVE AWAY any thoughts of ANGRY BULLS GETTING THEIR HORNS TRIMMED!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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34 Acres, 2 Kids and a Boxer Named Tango

“I just think you’re distracted,” Scott, the Dog Trainer, kindly pointed out.  I had failed to work with our uber intelligent Boxer puppy in advance of our training appointment once again.  “It would only take a minimal amount of work and Tango could be competing in….” (the rest of the sentence made no sense to this City Girl).  We had fancy “AKC” papers (whatever that means) that were supposed to be officially “filed” someplace, for some important reason that eluded me.  All I knew was that after letting the puppy outdoors for more than 20 minutes every 2 hours, the first thing she did was waddle over to my favorite new beautiful rug, squat while gazing directly at me, and potty. “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!  I FEEL LIKE I JUST BROUGHT TWINS HOME!,” I would scream in exasperation.  My seven-year-old daughter had to take over the role of “Handler” (what the HELL is a handler, anyway?).

 

kids with tango

Oh, how the kids loved “Tango,” a name that was, in the early days, in competition with “Tiara.”  The final name decision came down to 2 main factors:  1) We had named our 34-acre piece of Kansas paradise “Tango Canyon” to honor my husband’s Argentinian heritage; 2) It brought joy to my husband and me that the neighbors, with whom we were feuding legally, had to hear us yelling “Tango” several times a day.

And, just like the enchanting and wondrous dance from Latin America, our Tango was complicated (because she was smarter than me), challenging (because we had no fence in Paradise/Tango Canyon), and charming (the Country Club Superintendent knew her personally from all the times she ran away and the Rancher across the street could never catch her fast enough to return her home, away from his cattle).  Tango became a kind of precocious Peter Rabbit in our parts and I was the tired and overwhelmed Momma Rabbit, constantly in search of her infinitely curious Peter.

The escapades involving the chasing of Tango and her valiant return home are too numerous to recount here, so since it is Memorial Day, I will recount only one.  I mentioned Ranch across the way from our land but directly across from where we lived was a beautiful cemetery called Highlands.  It overlooked the whole town of Winfield, Kansas as well as the Walnut River.  Memorial weekend was our favorite time to live across from Highlands because of the constant flow of townsfolk who would bestow their loved ones’ graves with silk flowers that later blew away in the fierce prairie wind – and my kids would gather like treasures in the wagon and lovingly present to me!  There was also a beautiful and somber Ceremony of Remembrance that the local Armory sponsored among the hundreds of flags placed throughout the cemetery by the local Rotary club.

Around 10 am each Memorial weekend Saturday morning, we would hear the patriotic trumpet music from Highlands and up the driveway we’d ramble to watch.  I guess one Saturday, when Tango was about 2, we forgot.  Or the kids were in the basement and the noise from the tv overpowered the patriotic trumpet music.  So we forgot to go, but Tango didn’t.  Off she trotted by herself (she was quite accustomed to this), to enjoy the lovely service in honor of the American fallen heroes.  When the ceremony concluded and everyone had gone home except Tango and Sergeant Pfeffer of the local National Guard, the 2 left together in his truck and returned to the Armory about 3 miles away in town.  There, Tango spent a wonderful weekend with Sergeant Pfeffer as the newly appointed “Armory Mascot.”  Sadly, I probably did not even notice that Tango was missing until late in the day on Saturday.  The kids became aware of it and set out to find her, calling “Tango” all over our land until dusk.  When she did not reappear, as usual, we became concerned and decided to call Dr. Warren, the local vet who knew just about every pet in town and was the unordained “lost dog network” figurehead.  He had not heard anything, but promised to keep us informed.  We slept better that night knowing our good friend, Dr. Warren, had his ear to the ground in search of the missing Tango.

The following day, our home phone rang a few times with the id “National Guard,” so I did not pick it up, assuming it was some kind of fundraising call preying on the emotions of patriotic Americans during Memorial weekend.  The same thing happened on Monday.  Oddly enough, Tango had not reappeared, either.  Our lines of search and rescue were going cold, but the calls from the “National Guard” persisted.  I never put it together that there could be a connection between our missing Tango and these annoying calls.  My seven-year-old, Isa, had to point it out.  “Mom, call them back!” she urged.  So I did.  On the other end of the line was a very pleasant and kind voice, Sergeant Pfeffer.  “Hi, this is Joan Tamburini, I have received many calls from this number,” I began in my irritated big-city tone.  “Oh, great! I think we have your dog,” Sergeant Pfeffer proudly announced.  He then told me the story of how Tango had wandered up to his group during the annual Remembrance Ceremony and how she had lingered by him when the rest of the crowd disbursed.  “She just happily climbed right into my truck,” he amusedly recounted.  “So she’s been here with me all weekend, keeping an eye on things and enjoying the Armory.” Oh. My. God.  Instant embarrassment and apologies from my fast-talking city mouth.  And my Isa stood before me, hand on her hip and lips pursed, judging my incompetence.

Retrieving our Tango from the Armory and meeting the delightful Sergeant Pfeffer gave our family something to do that boring Memorial Day in 2007.  When we arrived, Tango greeted us personally and gave us a tour.  She would have been the perfect Armory mascot.  But we brought her home.  And the adventures continued…….

 

 

 

Dear Mom, You’re My Favorite Badass

My Mother was born prematurely during a record blizzard on December 1, 1932, in Memphis, Tennessee (a night, we learned later, on which her Grandmother was babysitting her future husband, one-year-old Dickie Killion!).   She lived in an incubator the first few weeks of her life before her parents, Opal and Ronnie, were allowed to take her home to Hayti, Missouri, a rural farming town in the Southeastern part of the state.  As a young child, she contracted rheumatic fever and the doctor said there was nothing he could do – he advised her parents to buy a coffin for Rhetta.  So they did.  Fortunately, they did not need it.  And even more fortunately, this impish child who cheated death early in life continued to thrive and grow into a beautiful young woman who would marry and bear 7 children, the youngest of whom is me.

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Growing up in the  post-Depression South, there were certain expectations of young ladies that Rhetta continuously defied.
For instance, one of her very best friends, Carliss, was African American.  They enjoyed playing outdoors together for hours.  To Rhetta, the color of her friend’s skin was of no particular consideration at all.

Rhetta was strong-willed and did not want to go to school.  She recently confessed that she was, in fact, expelled from kindergarten for refusing to stop pulling the little girl’s pigtails who sat in the desk in front of her!  Rhetta did not mind the unconventional.  To her Mother’s horror, while performing in a piano recital, Rhetta suddenly forgot the music so she stood and sang the words instead!  When she was instructed to trim the rosebush – a chore she despised – Rhetta simply cut off all the lovely heads to hasten her task.  When cautioned that young ladies did not get muddy, she rode her bike through every single mud puddle she could find.

Spanking never worked because Rhetta refused to cry!  She liked visiting an Uncle who purportedly had taken up the company of a “woman of ill repute” because the woman was so friendly!  She had a daily habit of stopping along the way from school to home at the courthouse to enjoy a cigarette in the ladies’ restroom.  Rhetta was, indeed, incorrigible!

Mom recalls there was an internment camp for German Prisoners of War (for some reason in Hayti, Missouri!) when she was a child.  Fearful of what unknown harm could become of the adorable blue-eyed blonde little girl, Rhetta was absolutely forbidden from ever riding her bike to “that part of town.”  Well she did.  And Mom remembers talking through the fence to the Germans, they speaking German and she speaking in her inimitable Southern drawl – and relishing the smiles on their faces and laughter on the other side of the fence.  “I’m sure they thought my accent was as strange as I found theirs’ – but we were fascinated with one another,” Mom remembers.

Her Dad, Ronnie Greenwell, was a proud member of the Missouri Cotton Producers Association and Lions Club.  He somehow gained access to President Harry Truman and took his precocious daughter along with him to meet the Great Democrat from Missouri.  Mom only recalls President Truman asking her how she liked school – and that she was fairly bored throughout the encounter!

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In spite of all her youthful spiritedness, Mom managed to easily slip into the “ladylike patterns” of the day and married my Dad, whom she adored, at the tender age of 20 in 1953.  They began a life together in Southeast Missouri in a small farming community where Mom bore 7 children and participated fully in the spiritual life of the Catholic parish to which our family belonged.

Mom smiling

But there was always a restlessness about Mom – she loved life and learning and wanted to participate in the world as more than a caregiver.  She convinced Dad to move to St. Louis, where she began a wallpaper business and eventually became a tax preparer for H & R Block.  She brought energy and life into our family with her diverse group of interests and friends.  Mom volunteered for hospice and a program for teenage runaway girls.  She helped the local United Way with its annual “100 Neediest Cases” Christmas program.  She became enthralled by the study of Jungian Psychology which led her to the work of Elisabeth Kubler Ross, whom Mom personally escorted from the airport to a workshop she attended!  And she handmade beautiful quilts that are treasured by many.

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Now in her eighties, Mom is confined to her bed.  She still enjoys a lively imagination and interest in many people and things, especially the St. Louis Cardinals! Here she is meeting one of her great-grandchildren, a beautiful gift she treasures.

She never fails at giving me the perfect advice.  Ever.  When I was in my twenties, Mom often sent me “Affirmations,” her own compositions in her own handwriting, to help me navigate the difficult adult world.  She once wrote to me, “I love you.  Don’t give your personal power or your $ away.”

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For these reasons and so many more, my beautiful Mom is and always will be MY FAVORITE BADASS!  I thank God every day for the blessing of a life with Mary Henrietta Greenwell Killion as my Mother.

 

Abrazos Fuerte for 2016

Dear Friends,

Last year, ironically without anticipating all the difficult emotional terrain I would cover, I selected the word “Awaken” (or awake, I cannot recall!!) as my “Word of the Year.”  Boy did I subconsciously Nail It!  The Universe mercifully gave me lots of wake-up calls……and my Divine Power gave me the strength to answer.  Suffice it to say, our family soared through potentially staggering emotional challenges and I am now a strong, proud “Friend of Bill’s” (aka Recovering Alcoholic).

This year, it took fewer than 5 minutes to imagine my guiding phrase/philosophy:  “Abrazos Fuerte” – Translated from Spanish, it means “Strong Hugs.”  Our wise and adoring Primo from Argentina (Spanish for Male First Cousin), Charlie, always ends his written communication with this beautiful phrase – it is his “signature.”

Cousin Charlie (pictured above, enjoying his 71st birthday in Bariloche, Argentina and in 1998, “supervising”  my sister-in-law Christine in the family tradition of empanada making), is a strong and loving figure in our family.  He is the existing “Patriarch” of the Tamburini family of Buenos Aires, Argentina, the homeland of my husband’s father, Mario Tamburini (my son has his name).

Charlie is the lifeline between my husband and his Argentinian heritage – he can tell us stories and share history that brings the family ancestry to life and provides a strong foundation for our children.  When my husband and I announced the news of our engagement to the Argentinian branch of the family, they sent telegrams of congratulations and Charlie offered me abrazos fuerte in the form of one simple line:  “Grandma Isabel is smiling for she would have found you extremely simpatico.”  Simpatico means likeable and easy to get along with.  WHO COULD ARGUE WITH THAT?!!!!

Anyway, life continues to amaze me and the journey would be impossible without MUCHOS ABRAZOS FUERTE.  As a side note, I should add that the Tamburini family are known to be extremely strong huggers – so much so that my sisters, as Aunts, have had to caution my son Mario before hugging, “Not too hard, Mario!”.  I am the proud Mother of 2 very strong huggers – they will do well in life.

The infamous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo published in Time Magazine from “V-J Day in Times Square 1945” really, for me, visually depicts the spirit of what I hope to achieve in everything I do with everyone I encounter in 2016.  In life, one must march onward and celebrate moments with laughter and abrazos fuerte or else what the hell is the point?

Happy New Year, friends!  May 2016 bring each of you your own special moments of warm embraces that melt away life’s jagged edges.

Love always,

Joanie, the Big Cheese on Cheeky Street

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49 Thanksgivings Later

After 49 Thanksgivings, I finally “get” why it did not matter to my Mom, in her later years, whether our family ate dinner together on paper plates (themed, of course) or not.  The mere fact that we were together was enough for her – and it should have been enough for me – but, alas, I needed more “road miles” in life to fully understand.

This Thanksgiving I am wildly and enthusiastically thankful for 4 Things:

CURIOSITY

PALS come to Tango Canyon
Mario’s preschool class visited our 34-acre wilderness every year for their Spring field trip – here he is greeting the bus!  It was a truly wondrous time.

To be curious is a state of willingness to allow life, ideas, people, nature and the world to enthrall and intoxicate you.  In spite of my struggle this 49th year of my life on earth to discover and maintain a healthy sobriety, I am thankful to discover that I still experience the wonder of a child every single day.  AMEN to that and keep the curiosity coming!

After all, it has been said, “interesting people are interested people.”

SETBACKS

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It has taken me 49 years to learn the slow and steady “tortoise” way – I used to prefer to hurry and get my reward or pain “over with.”

We all experience setbacks and many of them are stunning, paralyzing and utterly terrifying.  Looking back, I really am thankful for each and every setback I have experienced.  Not only am I learning humility, I am experiencing the ebb and flow of the journey and learning to take my EGO OUT OF IT.  I mean, a mortal can only do so much – the Universe is so much larger and powerful, and there is no escaping the lessons we’re each meant to learn.  To me, setbacks are just another way of experiencing mortality and human limitations.  And like Garth Brooks famously crooned, “I thank God for unanswered prayers” every single day.

ACCEPTANCE

First Recital
You’d never know it but this picture of my darling children was snapped during one of the darkest times of my life.  Complete shock and uncertainty colored my days, but they, being the curious and resilient little teachers our children are meant to be, marched onward!

My husband and I were “curious” about life in a tiny town more than 200 miles away from our home so we packed up and moved away from friends, family, professional connections, and all the lovely comforts of city life.  We stayed there 8 years.  I joke that 2 of them were happy, but I seriously mean it!  Looking back, that really is not true:  my mental state was not happy because I was fighting the flow of our new lives.  But something super cool I have discovered in mid-life:  you can actually reflect back and accept what was once unimaginable and unendurable and it has the same effect – now my memories of what I thought was a “really dark time” are mostly funny and happy!  I am so thankful for this gift.

MY TRIBE

Boo 16 mos
Becoming a Mother is just one way of earning the responsibility for tending to a tribe.  This is my first little tribe member, Isabella Bernadette.

A wise woman once told me, “Your kids aren’t always going to be this little.”  Obvious statement of fact but, at the time, I could hardly imagine a time when my life was not dictated by play dates, diaper changes, snack times, story times, intrusive “Mom friends” and never-ending messes, usually involving bodily fluids.  This is my beautiful daughter, now 16 years old, at 16 months old.  I hardly remember the passing of time.  Another wise woman, my own Mother, told me, “Honey, life will pass you by so quickly it will leave your head spinning.”  And it has.  She was right, as usual.  I am thankful for my tribe of family, starting with my husband and children and colored with many interesting friends and co-workers.  At the tender age of 49, I have learned how to assess quickly what “works” for my tribe and what needs to just go away!  THANKS be to GOD!!

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and whether you enjoy it on the finest china or paper plates.  Life is a gift.

 

Holding on and Letting Go

Yesterday it became official:  After 20 years of marriage, I am officially 31 pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day.  But I am too busy getting sober, raising teenagers, losing my reading glasses, finding myself, and holding on to the time I have today with loved ones to really give a damn.

Another thing became official in the last week:  my husband believes in the regular “God Winks” I am receiving from my Dad.

I have had some really awful moments in my struggle for sobriety these past 156 days - and Daddy always appears at just the right moment, in the form of a feather.
I have had some really awful moments in my struggle for sobriety these past 156 days – and Daddy always appears at just the right moment, in the form of a feather.

Mike witnessed it as we gazed outside his office window anticipating the start of the Kansas City World Series Parade last week:  out of the blue, a single feather gracefully frolicked in the wind and made its way to the pavement just beneath us.  He looked at me with wonder and said, “Dickie’s here!”.  Yesterday, I was feeling like a little kid again, preparing to meet a new friend and try a new AA meeting, and wanting to just go home and hide beneath my covers.  I ran out to my car before my friend met me for coffee before the meeting to look for my phone:  a single feather lay just beside my car door (it was NOT there when I arrived a few moments earlier).  Dad was reassuring me, “Go ahead and go to that meeting.  You need it.”

I’m holding on and letting go to everything and everyone these days, it seems:  my beautiful teenagers; my youth (and former figure!); things that used to matter but really don’t anymore; my dreams of who I wanted to be and reckoning with the reality of the time I have left to fulfill them or make new ones.

Grandma Rhetta gets a BIG hug from 5-year-old Mario for the beautiful quilt she made him.
Grandma Rhetta gets a BIG hug from 5-year-old Mario for the beautiful quilt she made him.

I am still thrilled and sometimes even enraptured by the journey of life – including the scars I carry as a mid-lifer.  It’s wild to ponder the things that matter more to me now that I know I don’t have a lot of time on this Earth.  I care more about being gentle and kind than winning, at anything.  I worry less about deadlines and more about resilience and protection (social work lingo that I love!).  We live among the wounded and I want to be a healer.

Sally Wilcox. my dear friend, passed these along to me when my family was treated unkindly in a small town. She became a Deacon in the Episcopal Church very late in life and never shied from
Sally Wilcox. my dear friend, passed these along to me when my family was treated unkindly in a small town. She became a Deacon in the Episcopal Church very late in life and never shied from “sticky” situations. I will always cherish Sally, these earrings, and the brief time I had with her.

I guess the trick to living a life of Grace after 50 is to know when to hold on and when to let go.  I cannot be in this state perpetually!  Luckily, I have had some pretty wise friends share their wisdom with me along the way.

Remember the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes”?  I picture myself often as the character Kathy Bates plays – Evelyn – that awkward midlife woman, pathetically hanging on to a shell of her former self until she meets Jessica Tandy’s character – Ninny – the older woman in the nursing home who shares the story of her relative, Idgie, in segments for Evelyn,  and gives her the gift of strength to prepare her for old age.  I had a friend like Evelyn in Winfield, Kansas.  Her name was Sally Wilcox and she was a writer.  She volunteered to write an article about an old dairy house on our land adjacent to a neighborhood development.  Mike and I saw beauty and grace in this old structure.  Our neighbors saw blight. They wanted it torn down, we maintained it had Historic value and submitted to the City’s requirements that it be boarded up.

Who would have thought that a historic dairy house would be the
Who would have thought that a historic dairy house would be the “mountain we chose to die on” in our small town experience? We learned a lot, thanks to Sally.

The dairy house was designed and lived in by a relative of a well-known architect from the region.  Louis Caton, a musician, lived there for a period of time and was a known local artist and musician.  We romanticized the past and the things that transpired in the old dairy house  but to the neighbors, it represented a hatred they carried for the former developer of their neighborhood and broken promises.  It was ours but, in the end, it was not.  Our fight did not matter because the neighbors won the right to tear it down, after all.  Looking back, I realize the dairy house was just a symbol to Mike and me of something beautiful we had found and wanted to “tend to” for our children.  We imagined a future for them in rural Kansas and all the cool things they might get to do with this beautiful barn like structure set beside a wooded canyon that many children, including Osage Indian children and pioneer children, had played in before.

But maybe we held on to the wrong thing at the wrong time for the wrong reasons which now, ultimately, does not matter.  But I cannot stop thinking about the twinkle in Sally Wilcox’s eyes as she interviewed us and published the article in the local newspaper about it.  In all her wisdom, Sally thought the fight was worth it and she liked us, unlike our neighbors!  One afternoon before a public hearing about the condemnation of the dairy house we were forced to attend at the City, Sally gave me the earrings she wanted me to wear bearing the words:  “People are no damn good.”  I will always love her for her strength and courage and carry with me the memory of my very own “Evelyn,” who helped me confront one of my first ugly midlife battles over WHAT to hang on to and WHEN to let go.

So, here I am, almost 50, getting feathers from Dad and remembering a brilliant older friend who gave me many gifts of wisdom.  In their own ways, they both sustain me as I daily weigh what’s worth my energy and what’s not.

Perfectly Timed Endings

The year was 2000.  It was August.  Kansas City was experiencing an epic heatwave, 30+ days of 100-degree temperatures.  The air was thick with humidity and, at my house, the sound of Barney’s voice and anticipation of the arrival of my second child.  My first child was only 19 months old.  She was really, REALLY, into Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

Weighing in at 207 pounds, my 5’4″ frame was struggling to keep up with Isa, the energetic toddler in love with Barney.  We established a routine that my 3rd-trimester, overly fatigued and aching body could maintain:  Up at 7 for Barney and breakfast; Walk or play with friends until 11; Nap until 1; Drive huge Ford Expedition with Blaring Air Conditioning 1 mile South to Sonic for “in-car picnic” of grilled cheese and milk shake; More Barney until Daddy got home at 6:30.  To say it felt like hell would be an understatement.  To comfort Isa during times when Barney and Baby Bop were not on tv or Mommy could not “find” the video, she had a stuffed version that sang the infamous “I love you” song and also said “Bye Bye.”

Fast forward 6 years.  My two children, now 7 and 5 years old, are not that “into” Barney – they are more obsessed with Sponge Bob and those twins living in a hotel with their singing Mom on Disney channel.  Though he still lives, the once-cherished stuffed Barney now belongs to our boxer puppy, Tango, and lives in the backyard.

Parents everywhere empathized with our total disdain for the Dinosaur with the Annoying Voice.  One friend even told his little girl that she could not watch Barney on tv for several weeks because he had been in an unfortunate car accident and was “banged up pretty bad”!!!!

On a cool Spring evening, I was scooping puppy poop in our yard for the umpteenth time.  It had been very rainy out and Barney, now Tango’s best friend, had seen better days.  I was certain it was his time to go.  Thus, with little more ceremony than slamming his lifeless, once-beloved, purple body in the same plastic bag with my dog’s poop, I bid Barney a final, gleeful farewell.  Then something very suspicious and spooky happened:  this symbol of torture, maimed by a puppy and hugged to death by 2 toddlers, rose from the poop bag and uttered one final phrase:  “Bye Bye!”.  

Barney got the last laugh.  He is a very clever dinosaur.

Isa came running from wherever she was playing when she heard Baby Bop's band!
Isa came running from wherever she was playing when she heard Baby Bop’s band!

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Why a 60-year-old Big Brother is even Cooler than a Teenaged One

I am 12 years younger than my oldest sibling, my big brother, Jim. He was born in 1954 and I was born in 1966, so we are literally a generation apart. He is one of the last hippies and I am one of the first Gen Xers. When I was 4, he went away to the Seminary for boarding school, so I don’t remember living with him all too well. My childhood was marked by the larger-than-life, highly anticipated homecoming visits of my big brother. He drove a brown 1974 Ford LTD and wore blue jean cutoff shorts. He played guitar and sang songs like “A Horse With No Name” by America. He was cool and everybody liked him. He could blow smoke rings and even wrote a song of the same name. When he was home, my Mom baked custard pie and cherry pie and seemed more content because her “Jimmy Dick” was nearby. He made my sister laugh so hard at the supper table milk would run through her nose and she’d get whacked on the top of the head by my Dad’s wedding ring.

Even though I had 4 beautiful and extremely popular older sisters, I most wanted to be like my big brother because he just emanated “cool,” kind of like Snoopy.

One Easter, Mom had us all lined up in front of the house dressed in our matching outfits so she could make a “home movie” to mark the day. 15-year-old Jim decided to walk like a hunchback so 3-year-old me followed suit dragging my bunny and basket in tow and wearing a bonnet, too. He elevated all the everyday, mundane things to the level of super cosmic. Every evening when he was home, Dad would watch “Batman” and “Get Smart” with him on tv while Mom made supper and the girls set the table. His laughter and quick wit filled the house with energy that lightened the pervasive “girl drama.” My Dad was happy and at his best when Jim was home, too. We all were.

The summer of 1972 my brother had a “far out” garage band. They played “Jumping Jack Flash” and “In A Godda Da Vida.” The kids from town would flock to our house to listen while my parents, glued to the Watergate hearings on tv, sat just inside in their recliners. I pretended to be Tracy Partridge and played tambourine in the background. Even though there was something awfully serious going on in the world that all the grownups seemed to be worried about, I felt safe, happy and most importantly, extra special, because my cool older brother’s band was the hottest thing going in our little town that summer.

So it is no surprise that it was exciting for me to take my 13- and 15-year olds across the country this summer to visit their Cool Uncle Jim, now 60 years old.

To me, having my kids connect with my oldest sibling was like watching 502996_16840263_1972_Ford_LTD200px-tracysingthem unlock a sacred vault into my past and experience the same exhilaration I did as a kid when Jim brought “funny” back to town. They loved him and who wouldn’t??Big Bro Oogling