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

140314-eisenstadt-life-jhc-1255_ed7cb535b5ac1595b5c2f98567860a7b.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

 

 

 

 

Fifty Years Ago Today

Source: Fifty Years Ago Today

 

Friends, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this blog!  The writing, images and author’s voice are beautiful gifts that remind me of my own childhood and also contrast sharply to my own experience (in a funny way!!!) relocating to the country.  GREAT READS, peeps.

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

images-12
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.

 

On Twist Ties, Labeled Baggies and Loving My Clutter

There is absolutely nothing written anywhere that says Moms who carry clean wipes and organize with twist ties and “label-able” baggies are better than Messy Moms.  Yet, on many occasions, I have pondered this.  Yes, life would be simpler if I were a more organized ziplock baggie-type of Mom, but would we be a happier family?  Show me the studies that prove children raised in organized environments thrive and flourish and I might consider (though at 49 I am pretty sure it is far too late) changing my ways.

Like Carrie Bradshaw, each morning I awoke to a boutiquey trail of shoes down my steps and to the front door.
Like Carrie Bradshaw, each morning I awoke to a boutiquey trail of shoes down my steps and to the front door.

I mean, it isn’t as if nobody saw this coming:  when we were dating, my husband recalls the “trail of shoes” in my little pink house – I liked it that way because I never knew what kind of “shoe mood” I would wake up in.  Some people simply need to see their stuff to feel comfortable.

This is cozy.  A bookshelf would be "cold" and uninviting.
This is cozy. A bookshelf would be “cold” and uninviting.

Ask any other Clutter Mom how they manage to run an organized household around so much “stuff” and you will get the same answer:  “I know exactly where everything is and it makes perfect sense to me.”  Just not anybody else!

To me, THIS is organized.
To me, THIS is organized.
The first time I took baby Isa to visit my parents in St. Louis, my car was loaded down with so much baby gear (to improve her intelligence at 3 months), my Dad asked "Where's the BABY?"
The first time I took baby Isa to visit my parents in St. Louis, my car was loaded down with so much baby gear (to improve her intelligence at 3 months), my Dad asked “Where’s the BABY?”

My kids are teenagers now and my family pretty much knows “I Yam Who I Yam,” and they take responsibility for organizing their own stuff.  In addition to my proclivity to create clutter, I also have disastrous handwriting.  So much so that, on many occasions, my children would come home from school claiming the teacher accused them of “forging your Mom’s signature” on papers she had sent home.  Sigh.  For years, Isa re-wrote my grocery lists for me.

Instead of making life more difficult, I think my messy-leaning-habits have created a sense of acceptance, tolerance and love in my household.  Put THAT in your labeled baggie and twist tie your opinions, ORGANIZED MOMMAS!

twisty-or-clip-294x300ziploc_bags_s

Because my children and household are F-I-N-E with their Messy Momma.  I may not be able to whip out exactly what my children need at precisely the right time from my purse, like other Moms, but my kids always understood my struggle with organization and everybody managed to get by.

If you are reading this and have perhaps been feeling badly about your lack of organization, I urge you to to think a moment about whether anybody in your family would be happier or better off but for your personal failings.  I always found the Organized Moms to be a tad boring, myself.  And THAT’s how we ROLL………..

The Difference Between Laziness and Spiritual Peace

Lately I have been on an inner journey.  I won’t say I have “neglected” housework, but let’s just state for the record that I am blissfully tuned out of my immediate visual surroundings. Nobody in my family seems to mind.  Clothes get washed, dinners get served and eaten, pets are not neglected, Fall decorations are properly appointed.  Outwardly, everything seems “normal.”

9265d7e59db0bdf41d1511ab35aa1fe4

What started out feeling like a mid-life boycott of mundane chores has now become – well, more of a daily meditation on the essential.  Gratitude for all that we have been given tops my list of essentials.  When my eyelids pop open in the morning and the awareness of feeling whole and not broken by alcohol, ugly words spewed to a loved one the night before – I breathe deeply and thank God for the blessing of one more day.  Whatever I choose to do with that day, my underlying goal is LOVE.

Is a clean house essential to love?  No.  Right now, at 49 and managing a life with 2 teenagers, a husband intent on planning the sunset of his career, and a boatload of aging siblings and Mother whom I love – I give myself permission to LOVE FIRST, clean second.  I used to think I was getting lazy because I did notice the slowing down.  This coincided with my sobriety, which began almost 5 months ago.

The whole point of sobriety is to NOTICE, EXPERIENCE and CHERISH the good.  This requires slowing down (at least for me) and focusing on NOW.  As much as I love and enjoy these new feelings, it is true my standards of tidiness which were low to begin with – have gotten a little lower.

Nobody is complaining.  So I must not be lazy.

When I am an old woman I will remember the sunsets I watched, not the floors I mopped.
When I am an old woman I will remember the sunsets I watched, not the floors I mopped.

What Teapots and Birkenstocks Mean After 120 Days Sober

In less than 6 months, I will be turning 50.  For the first time in 30 years, I will celebrate sober.  A little over halfway through the journey, sometimes I feel regret that I waited so long to discover inner peace but also many days I feel upset that I can’t party like a rock star anymore!  Maybe that feeling will fade as 120 days rolls into 200, 365 and more.  More time of living in the present and fully engaged.

In many ways, my newfound sobriety has brought me back full circle to the things I have always loved, especially COMFORT.  I am a homebody (though this is surprising to many) who loves my couch, family, warmth of the sun or a roaring fire, homemade meals and simple pleasures.

I think the bare-boned honesty it takes to admit one is powerless over a person, place or thing brings with it comfort and liberation – so really, I have just come “home.”

I choose comfort over cuteness
I choose comfort over cuteness
I want my tea, not my Malbec
I want my tea, not my Malbec

I realized I had accepted my “lot” as a “recovering alcoholic” when I found myself daydreaming about having a pair of Birkenstocks and a good tea kettle.  Chuckle and snort, though I may about this, the darned truth of the matter is:  I AM HAPPY WITH MYSELF!  

There are messes our family must deal with left behind from my years of selfish self-medicating, at the top of which, of course, is my habit of overspending.  But, my God!  4 months ago I could not have stayed clear-headed long enough to even research where our money was going much less devise a plan to resolve it.

A good friend is helping me re-vamp my resume, too.  THIS would never have happened when I was drinking.  She cannot believe I don’t have any “professional” self-esteem.  I can’t believe there is someone out there that sees something I can’t see, but I am willing to dig further, to consider some truths about myself and put myself in the ring of competition for whatever rewarding career awaits me next.  I must do this, not only for myself and my family, but because things are going too well to just sit on my couch (as much as I love it!) for the rest of my life.

Push Push Push.  I think I can until I know I can – the Little Engine that Could.  This is me at 49, a little war-torn and rough but loving the journey and thanking God every day I wake up sober.

120 days sober looks like this when you are 49
120 days sober looks like this when you are 49

The “Family Bed” Remembered

For years our family slept together in the Master bedroom- pets and all
For years our family slept together in the Master bedroom- pets and all

Just going through some old photos this morning and found this gem and HAD to write a quick blog post.  This is 2008, our daughter Isa was 9 and her brother, Mario was 7.  Those were our pets, Tango the boxer and Boris the cat.  We lived in a beautiful 5,000-sq ft home on 34 acres.  At bedtime we might as well have had a studio apartment!  For at least 2 years, this is what the “family bed” looked like.  Mike (my husband) would sigh when the lights went out and quietly say, “There are ALOT of beating hearts in this room.”  I loved it!

As Dad got “grumblier” about the situation, Isa would type “contracts” for him to sign designating a specific future date when the “family bed” situation would cease – but she always “filed” for an extension!

Fast forward to 2015:  both children are normal (okay, that’s debatable!) and sleeping in their own beds.  But they have memories of many nights in our “shared sleeping quarters” watching movies, talking, laughing, playing with the pets. Some people think this is nuts and I do sort of get their point.  But I am SO GLAD we did it.  It gave the children comfort when they needed it and we have lots of fun memories to look back on….especially after they flee the nest, which I am dreading, of course.

So, my advice to parents of young children struggling with the bedtime routine:  give up!  Enjoy being together now.  I know there are all sorts of studies now encouraging “the family bed” but I don’t know where they are or what they are saying about the benefits.  I know my 1950’s-era parents thought I was the WORST POSSIBLE type of wishy-washy parent while this was going on.  The 7 of us were sent marching up the stairs at bedtime with 1 “regulation size” cup of water and ordered to SHUT UP AND GO TO SLEEP!  Anyone who dared get out of bed and tiptoe downstairs again had better be ready for the WRATH of my DAD!!!

At one point, tired of the “charade” of pretending to resist my children’s nightly pleas to sleep on my floor, I just gave in and bought 2 air mattresses at Wal-Mart for the Master Bedroom floor.  In my opinion, this was one of the best investments I ever made.

Their World Was Better

When the last of my parents’ generation is gone, there will be a huge void in the world.  The last known Americans raised by parents that endured The Great Depression and World War II.  People who put manners before self-gratification.  People who taught their children that respect and character are worthwhile and noble values.

Their word was their anchor to a life dedicated to honesty and commitment to whatever their choices and fate set before them.

Dad out on the town with St. Louis University buddies, 1950
Dad out on the town with St. Louis University buddies, 1950

My parents and grandparents were not perfect.  Just genuine.  And a lot less needy and dissatisfied than the generations that followed.  They were better at accepting what is than the rest of us.

I know these reflections make me sound like a sentimental old person.  I just hope that, somehow, there is a glimmer of the beauty and truth of my parents and their generation’s approach to life that passes through me to my children….so that Dick (my Dad) and Rhetta (my Mom)  will never be gone forever.

Mom serving tea with her best friend at Maryville College, St. Louis, MO.  1950
Mom serving tea with her best friend at Maryville College, St. Louis, MO. 1950

The 7 Friends Everybody Needs

My parents never told me whom I should choose as a friend, but they definitely showed me. My Mom often spoke of her very first best friend in the 1930’s, an African American girl named Carliss.  They played every afternoon together for hours in the alley behind Mom’s house.  An unusual pairing for the time period and rural setting in the South, to be sure.  As for Dad, he had 3 best friends his entire life and a million acquaintances that he treated with kindness and respect always.  As a kid growing up in a small town, I felt proud knowing that my Dad was well liked and known as a decent, fair, funny person.

With those concepts about friendship on my heart, I have lived a very colorful life sustained by many friends from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives.  Here are the 7 ESSENTIAL friends I think everybody would benefit from knowing:

  • A Kindergartener – Because of their innocence and devotion to making their mark, a kindergartener is about as easy and charming a friend you will ever have!  In my own experience, of course, these were my 2 children, with very different personalities though the same deadly sweet kindergarten-ish enthusiasm.  Isa would hop in the car each afternoon from her long day at school and give me the “dot report” – who received the most velcro-backed ladybug markings on their name to represent bad behavior.  She never had more than 1 and was very proud of this fact!  Mario, on the other hand, shared that his teacher only gave them “7 minutes to daydream,” but later added that she had told him he was “very handsome”!  If you have never been friends with a kindergartener, I recommend seeking one out at once!!!
  • A Septuagenarian – Edith Marsh lived in the apartment below me when I was in my mid-20’s and she was 93.  She had lost nearly everybody she loved in her life except her daughter who visited weekly.  We became best friends!  I would come home from work to find her sitting in her dark kitchen with the television on watching her favorite Kansas City Royals.  She would bring me homemade molasses cookies (I never had the heart to tell her I hate molasses!) and on snow days we would sit on her “divan” and chat about her husband, Homer, who had been so loving and devoted to her.  Edith told me I shopped too much and that I needed to “reel in a husband”!!!!  I was devastated when she died and lonely for a long time, in spite of my many friends my age.  Edith knew something about life that nobody else I had ever met understood – you can’t enjoy it by being a whiner!
  • Someone “Differently Wired” – I have had lots of friends that fit in this category but today, the one that sticks in my mind is another neighbor in the quirky little apartment building I lived in as a single woman.  I think her name was “Ann.”  It seemed she was a bit crazy, as all she did was carry a bag and cheerfully pick up trash in our neighborhood.  Of course, I admired her because of her smile and her bright red lipstick!  So I started talking to her.  Turns out, she believed that the service she was providing was all to honor Jesus, the man to whom she had always compared other men and the reason why she never married!  As odd as “Ann” was, I am always attracted to people who are just a little bit off – because you can learn so much from them if you listen to what motivates them!
  • Someone Who Has Lost Everything -I am cheating a bit here because Buddy was really my husband’s friend, only mine by “association.”  But he inspired us both.  First, because he was a hard-working man and someone from outside the “silk stocking” Law Firm world that most of our friends came from.  But second, because Buddy was surviving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter who were killed by a drunk driver.  He lived everyday with unspeakable sadness and carried the weight of this huge loss on his heart.  Yet Buddy made a decision to try to enjoy life and do some things he had never tried before – a “bucket list,” of sorts.  He was a simple man with lots of wisdom and we were so lucky to know him.  He died about 18 months after losing his wife and daughter in a tragic hit-and-run motorcycle accident.  Even though his life ended senselessly, we had never seen anybody so wounded make better use of the time they had here on Earth.  We both learned from Buddy that attitude is everything.
  • Someone Who Loves Music– We all have friends like this! The one that sticks out in my mind is my Dad’s college friend from Hawaii, Martin Luke.
    Don't Go Under The Old Apple Tree!
    Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree!

    He came to visit us a few times as I was growing up and he always brought his ukulele – an instrument that was very strange to me!  My Dad would absolutely light up when Martin would pull out the ukulele and together they would sing the songs of their college years in the 1940’s like “Don’t Go Under The Old Apple Tree”.  I watched them together enjoying this strange music on an odd instrument – 2 friends from vastly different backgrounds – and I understood that music can bring people together who would otherwise never have anything in common.  Very cool.

  • An Idealist – I had never met one until I was in Graduate School and Myra came to speak at a Gerontology Class.  She brought Dan Callahan’s controversial book about setting limits on scarce health care resources by restricting access for patients over a certain age.  And I argued with her.  And she smiled and thought I was “cheeky.”
    My mentor and dear friend, Myra, the first idealist and feminist I ever knew!
    My mentor and dear friend, Myra, the first idealist and feminist I ever knew!

    From there began a long friendship and working relationship with this remarkable woman with wildly liberal ideas!  My life would have been so dull if I had never met this beautiful woman, the Idealist in my life, Myra.  I am still so grateful.

  • Someone Who Is Extremely Kind to Animals
    Our less-than-photogenic dog, Tango, with my daughter, Isabella, her
    Our less-than-photogenic dog, Tango, with my daughter, Isabella, her “handler.’

    I never really gave much thought to animals, their needs and special gifts and their unique place on this planet, until I became a Mother.  Yes, I had pets that I loved as a child and young adult, but it wasn’t until I witnessed the transformative power of love between human and animal with my own children that I began to think of them as very special.  In the last few years, I have met many people who do amazing things in the animal rescue world and I admire them so much.  And the brave friends who help us “escort our beloved pets to the rainbow bridge” I could never do without.  There is one such friend, in particular, Colleen, who does this for people having a tough time saying goodbye to their dear pets – family members, really.  Colleen has a special gift and if you don’t know someone who would lay down their own life for an animal, I recommend you seek one out – they are beautiful souls!

How About Some Sunday “I Need Cheering Up” Lemon Tea Cakes?

Moist Lemon Tea Cakes .... make life a little easier to swallow!
Moist Lemon Tea Cakes …. make life a little easier to swallow!

There are many days when I just need “a little cheering up.”  And…..I will often head to the kitchen and start a very messy baking project as my antidote.  In her infinite wisdom, my Mom made sure I had my own little “kitchen” in a closet playroom growing up along with my very own Easy Bake Oven.  I am sure we ordered and re-ordered those cake batter packets hundreds of times, but the preoccupation with my Easy Bake kept me out of Mom’s way in the real kitchen!!!

Mom was not much of a gardener, either, though we lived on 3 acres surrounded by beautiful farmland.  So, I took it upon myself to begin my education in plant life by purchasing an Encyclopedia of Gardening through some mail-order offer.  I remember sending in my money and thanking the Publisher for helping me to enjoy “gardening through the mail”!

The succulent is consistently reliable in its beauty and health....great addition to any happy place1
The succulent is consistently reliable in its beauty and health….great addition to any happy place1

All this to say, a little something sweet baking in the kitchen and something pretty and green in a pot usually go a long way towards cheering me up whenever I feel down.  And I am “feeling” the back-to-school furor and dread that many parents do this time of year.  A new beginning marks an ending too soon forgotten – and a day closer to our babies leaving the nest.   I have many friends who dropped their beautiful children off at college this weekend for the first time – the day they never thought would happen arrived.  And so, in the spirit of “cheering everyone up,” I offer this post with a new yummy lemon recipe to enjoy.

Moist Lemon Tea Cakes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups butter, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

Glaze:

  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk

2 teaspoons lemon extract

Directions

  1.  In a large bowl, cream the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the lemon juice, extracts and lemon peel.  Add flour; beat until just moistened.
  2.   Fill 2-dozen greased miniature muffin cups two-thirds full.  Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
  3.   In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients.  Dip tops of cakes into glaze; place on waxed paper to dry.