Category Archives: Family & Friends

Stories about time with friends and the members of our family.

Sugar Cookies, Our Christmas Tradition ©

How sugar cookies became a Christmas tradition for Tammy Lewis

sugar cookiesAs Christmas quickly draws near, I am inundated by a myriad of memories from my childhood.  In particular, I remember that every year, a few days prior to Christmas Eve, my dad would come home with last-minute presents to be wrapped, assorted sparkling colors of wrapping paper, and various foods for Christmas dinner.  He would park it all on the dining room table for my mother to unpack and put away.

I was 10 years old when a few days before Christmas Eve, I helped my mom unpack Dad’s latest last-minute purchases.  It was then that I noticed and realized that every year without fail, my dad would bring home bags of oranges and tangerines, bags of nuts in their shells, a tin of old fashioned hard candy, and last but not least, a box of powdered sugar cookies.  I thought nothing of my discovery and mentally filed it away.

When I turned 17, my grandmother (Dad’s mother) came to visit.  One day I overheard her discussing with my mom about hard times that she had endured in her past.  She said that one Christmas was especially poor, and she and my grandfather had no money to spend on Christmas presents.  To her surprise, a few days before Christmas Eve, neighbors stopped in for a visit.

sugar cookiesWith them, they brought gifts of oranges and tangerines, assorted nuts for shelling, a canister of hard candy, and powdered sugar cookies.  She was so humbled and overcome with gratitude.  Because of the neighbors’ kindness, she was able to provide treats for my dad and uncle.

As I overheard the conversation, I immediately knew that was the reason behind my dad’s last-minute purchases of the same food items.  A thoughtful visit and gift from neighbors turned to a long-lasting memory for my dad, and in turn, he made it a tradition to provide the same treats for his children.

While I may not have children of my own, my nephews and nieces are near and dear to me.  Just a few years ago, I relayed to them the story I overheard my grandmother tell about the oranges and nuts.  Now every year as Christmas approaches, they gently remind me to make sure I remember the most important purchases of the season: bags of oranges and tangerines, nuts for shelling, old fashioned hard candy, and finally, yet importantly, powdered sugar cookies.

For my grandparents, my father and uncle, I have made sure their Christmas tradition remains alive and will be passed onto future generations.

 photos by buchesandbits and sutherlandviolin

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Coffee Breath: What It’s Good For ©

Sweet remembrances with coffee by Travis Burchart

coffeeI love coffee!  I drink boatloads of coffee – literally, I fill a canoe with gallons of Sumatra and guzzle it down.  Of course, my over indulgence comes with a price.  My teeth are stained the yellow of fall leaves.  I don’t sleep well, which leads to another side effect – infomercial addiction at 2:00 in the morning.  My blood pressure isn’t just high – it’s altitudinal.  And, of course, my mouth gives off a rather “Starbuckish” stench.

Stench or not, there is a positive to coffee breath.  You might ask: What possible positive could come from having the potent breath of Colombian coffee farmer, Juan Valdez?   I might answer: In this curse of the coffee – this breath of the Java dragon – therein lies a memory.

When I was in middle school, the bus stop was no more than a five-minute walk from my house.  However, every morning, my father offered to drive me to the bus stop on his way to work.  Every morning – a one-minute drive to save me a five-minute walk.  But in this one-minute drive – a single minute amongst 1440 other minutes each day – I strengthened my bond with my father.  It meant something to me that he wanted to drive me, and it meant something to him to drive.  Not the type of man to openly say “I love you,” this was his way of verbalizing how he felt.

And, of course, he had strong coffee breath.

coffeeSo for one minute each day, I experienced both my father’s affection and the remnants of his morning Folgers.  I remember it all vividly – the wine colored interior of his Bonneville, the fog of my breath if the car was too cold, the stop sign where he pulled to the curb and told me to have a great day.  And it’s all held together by the smell of his breath.

It’s definitely not a Hallmark Card –  “I remember your breath. Happy Father’s Day” –  but more often than not, it’s the little things that help us to remember.  Halitosis may be the bane of dentists everywhere, but for some, it’s good for recalling the moments that are important.

photo by mdid & shinazy

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Downtown, A Fine Place To Be ©

Going downtown with Bobbi Rankin

downtown

 Downtown, things will be great when you’re

  Downtown, don’t wait a minute more

   Downtown, everything’s waiting for you

No finer place for sure and the boutique was the frosting on the cake.

In the downtown area, where I grew up, were a large number of shops and stores. 

Some were practical as the Five & Dime, where you could sit at the counter and eat a juicy $.50 hamburger, including fries.  Across the street was the fabric store.  We students from the local high school sewing class bought our colorful fabric there.  Next to that was the hardware store.  It was your typical nuts and bolts kinda store.  A place where the locals see each other and gossip about the less meaningful happenings around town.  There were of course, the stationery store, shoe store and many other places we would roam in and out of on a sunny afternoon. 

A town can’t do without a theater and that was located on the corner near the downtown area.  My friends and I would walk to town and see the latest Saturday afternoon matinee.   We would scamper up into the balcony and find our seats clearly way away from the couples that dotted the landscape, for obvious reasons.  Giggling and trying not to see who was with whom, we ate our popcorn in total rapture of the picture show.

But the best of all stores and shops was the ladies boutique.  My mom – The 50’s Mom – was a saleslady at a mall in the next town; I understood that boutiques were a new concept.  This was where you could find not only the most current fashions but also the higher end, more trendy attire.  I clearly remember when I bought a formal at this boutique in the downtown area, knowing that no one else would have the same dress.  What a thrill.

So, you can imagine my next thrill, when I got my first job there!  Yes, at the boutique, my favorite place in the midst of all the mundane, everyday downtown shops.  I was hired at $1.25 and hour and worked one and a half days a week.  Being a senior and wanting to borrow my parent’s car, I found myself in the greatest of both worlds.    And the only two worlds I cared about at that time.  I was now working at my favorite place AND being paid for it.   Well maybe three worlds, I now had gas money so my friends could go cruising the main drag and get a Coke at the local drive-in.

Life was good downtown and at my favorite boutique, not to mention using my parent’s car, cruising and hanging out at the local drive-in.  I continued working at the boutique through my second year at the junior college.  I then moved on, leaving the downtown and boutique behind, trying my hand at growing up.

Downtown, no finer place……………( Petula Clark )

photo by shinazy

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Bastille Day ©

Bastille Day is important to Shinazy

bastille dayJuly 14th is Bastille Day, a day I’ve been planning for, well, for years. I waited because I needed Bastille Day to land on a Saturday. The previous two times it did, I was unable to organize the family reunion I desired – I thought our family was too big for me to track down and arrange a gathering.

But this year, is the year!  Because, I learned, I knew every member of my family – it was just us. No unknown relative living in a town I had to research to know what state it was in. No long lost anyone.

The planning started when I was into genealogy and uncovered some facts about my great great grandparents, who came to San Francisco from France.  Julie Robinet arrived first, in 1866. She emigrated from Paris. I am unable to image how she felt. She was young, single, and unemployed; a city girl, speaking a language different than everyone else, arriving in a lawless, dirt street, frontier town. She was a brave babe.

Jean Jacque Chaine arrived later that year from Lyon. He came with buddies, this had to help him transition into his new life. He was a farmer; she owned a laundry (but that’s another story). He bought land in what is now Colma, CA, then deeded it to her 5 months later (I bet there’s another story here, too.)  My family still lives on that property – the seventh generations to do so.

I also discovered the location where they were buried. On a Bastille Day years ago, I decided to visit them. The old parts of cemeteries are difficult to navigate. I found where I thought they should be, but there was no marker, just crabgrass. I felt sad. This is all there was to commemorate the lives of two courageous people. Something had to be done and I am, after all her intrepid great great granddaughter; I can do this. And, so the idea of a family reunion on Bastille Day was formed.

I designed a stone for them. It has a french cross, called the Cross of Lorraine. I wanted a modest marker because I think they were unpretentious people, at least their daughters and granddaughters were – I knew them and that is why I decided my assessment was correct.  I put their full names, dates, and the city from where they came.  I had it made from California Granite because they choose California and it felt right.

So, now, forever after, when anyone wanders through this old part of this cemetery they will see that Julie and Jean were important and loved. I may never have met them, but I know who they were because they are me. On this Bastille Day their descendants will gather and celebrate them; I am grateful I am one of them.

photo by shinazy

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The 1950’s Woman ©

A Story by Bobbi Rankin

In the 1950’s, it was not normal to have a mom who worked. The norm was a mom who stayed home and did ALL the housework, shopping (if she drove), cooking and caring for the children. However, not my mom, she went to work. By the time I started school, off she would go to her job and me being the youngest, after school I would go to my friends house, where there was a stay-at-home mom waiting to feed us cookies and milk. After all it was the 50’s.

You do remember those days of “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It to Beaver”?

Do you remember how the mom would have the dinner ready and waiting for dad to come home from work and all the family would sit down together while mom served them their meals?

You remember watching those shows and feeling comfy knowing they were familiar scenes of your daily life. I remember them too but my home life was different. My dad went off to work every day too, but he was the one who sat with me to watch those classic shows of our black and white TV.

There were many times my dad would hop in the car to go do the grocery shopping, by himself. He would also help with the cooking and cleaning. We had hardwood floors that needed waxing twice a year. Dad would always help my mom do that tedious job.

You may wonder why my mom would leave her family to fend for themselves while she was fulfulling her own wants and desires (how scandalous, for sure). She did it not only for her own needs, but also for our family. She worked for the extra income. She worked for the desire to be a more satisfied woman.

My mom grew up in Montana and eventually became a teacher in a one-room school. Her students were mostly Native Americans. Occasionally she traveled back and forth alone on the train from Montana to San Francisco to visit her sister. My mom married in her late 20’s, also not a normal thing for those days. She was an independent woman, as we say today and woman in her own right. A woman who did things out of the norm.

There were times it bothered me to see my mom go off to work in her fashionable black dress, pearls and black heels. That meant she would not be waiting for me after school. I would not find her in a neatly pressed apron with warm, fresh from the oven, cookies and milk. It was, at times, not what I wanted. 

After 3rd grade I became a “latch key kid”. Rarely did I let that dampen my day. What came of those carefree days is that I pretty much raised myself but always knew I was growing up in a loving and caring environment. 

Being “neglected” is not in my vocabulary nor is it in my personality. I was always proud of my mom, she was always a lady, showed her love for our family and me and she was independent. I guess I did well with that 50”s mom of mine. I think some of her independence rubbed off on me. At least I hope it did.

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Guest Rooms ©

A Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

I have two good friends, one woman, one man, who each live 2-3 hours drive from me.  “Mi casa es su casa” is not just a casual term for either of these friends.  It is quite literal.  Not only are their homes always open to me, they’ve given me keys, so I can pop in whenever I like.

Like many families, their homes have designated guest rooms.  Unlike many, however, I am the nearly the only guest — I’m at one home or the other at least monthly.  Over time, the guest rooms have been affectionately re-labeled, “Malati’s Room.”  One has a bed I gifted my friend years back; the other has a bed I recommended during a refurnishing spree.  I have purchased favorite high-loft pillows to leave in each room, and have moved the table lamps around to accommodate my late-night reading patterns (light over my right shoulder, please).

One of these guest rooms is a gallery of my daughter’s college artwork, and includes a triptych of photos of my kids at three stages of their childhood. Come to think of it, it has more of my children’s presence than my own room at home.

I most always call and ask the same question, “Is there room at the Inn this weekend?”  And, quite naturally, the answer is always some variation of, “Of course; your room is always ready for you, Madame.”  Still the gracious guest, I alert them my approximate arrival time.  But, as it’s often late at night, I sneak quietly in like an errant teen, careful not to awaken them.

In the morning however, out of the guest rooms I come, the ceremonial coffee awaiting me, with milk, if I remember to bring it.  At some time during the stay, we catch up on gossip at one house and solve all the problems of the world at the other.  I always have other tasks on my visit agenda, but protect time for the treasured chatting sessions.

These guest rooms have been mine for over a decade now, and I seldom think how truly fortunate I am to have such caring friends.  Raised to be well mannered, I often bring a little something to thank them, but staying in these guest rooms has more meaning to me than I express.

But now, as I sit in the living room chair I always occupy during a visit, while my friend prepares our evening meal, I realize…

This Is Wonderful!  I am one of the most fortunate women in the world.  I am home here too.

I have two precious friends whose guest rooms have been deeded over to me. Guest rooms aren’t really guest room in these homes, they are Friends’ Rooms. 

photo by elisaself

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Grandchildren ©

A Story by Will Jones

Until February, our three sons, ages 31, 28 and 22, had blessed us with two…granddogs: Daisy, a sweet-natured, affectionate, red-nosed pit bull, and Sweet Pea, a somewhat aloof, reluctantly affectionate, but otherwise lovable beagle. Of course we dreamed of being real grandparents, like so many of our boomer friends. You can imagine our joy when our oldest son and his wife announced last summer that they were expecting. 

Never mind that they lived in Boston, about as far away from our California home as possible without leaving the country.  Digital photos and Skype would keep us close until we could visit.
In September we signed up for a May trip to New York with friends and added on an extra five days in Boston to personally meet who would by then be our three-month-old grandchild.

The blessed event occurred on February 13th, 2012: a healthy, serene baby girl. My son created a Picasa album almost immediately, and we Skyped twice in the first couple of months.  But nothing, other than the birth of our own children, prepared us for the outpouring of love we would experience when we arrived in Boston on May 14th.

For five full days we were with our granddaughter every moment except when we returned to our B & B to sleep. Everywhere we went we rode on either side of her in the back seat so we could gaze into her expressive blue eyes, laugh when she flashed a sudden smile, talk to her in response to her wordless chatter, feel the pressure of her tiny hands wrapped around our fingers, wonder at her calm beauty when she slowly fell asleep, her dark lashes resting on her rosy cheeks.

We took her to her first Red Sox game at Fenway Park; we visited Lexington and Concord, her first history lesson, and the Jack Kerouac Memorial in Lowell, her first American Literature lesson; we strolled through scenic parks on perfect spring days under new green foliage and among vibrant wildflowers.  We fell gloriously, deeply in love.  Leaving was difficult, but we’ve circled the calendar…our Boston family will be here on July 7th! In the meantime, wonderful photos and great memories will nourish us. Having a grandchild…everything we heard it would be…and more.

 photo by Will Jones

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Left on the Savannah ©

 A story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

Several years ago BOBB’s publisher and truly loving sister, shinazy (whose last name I stole at birth), stated the obvious:

“We would have left you on the savannah.”

She was referring to the fact that I was the one child my parents bore who:

  • Was nearsighted, so had to wear glasses starting at age six
  • Inherited my grandmother’s tendency to trip and fall over twigs, pebbles, and other slight raises in the terrain
  • Was smart but often distracted by paying attention to all of the stimuli around me
  • Had super flexible joints, so was constantly dislocating them
  • Cried whenever an adult gave me constructive criticism (any instruction, actually)

Yes, had I not been eaten by whatever carnivores lived 30,000 years ago, my family probably would have looked at this poor sample of a human — and, left me on the savannah…

“This one won’t live. If she does, she doesn’t have a chance to make it to reproductive age.”

  • She’ll fall over the cliff when she learns to walk
  • She’ll fall into the campfire when she learns to run
  • She’ll get lost because she doesn’t pay attention to where she is
  • She’ll be constantly injured and have to be carried around
  • She’ll endanger us all because she can’t take instructions

Yes, I am the myopic, frail, orthopedically challenged exception to the Hardy-Weinberg principal of genetic equilibrium:

Basic Definition: If mutations and migration don’t occur, of four children from the same parents, one will be genetically more similar to the mother, one genetically more similar to the father, two will be some mixture of both.

Thankfully, I wasn’t born 30,000 years ago.  I was born… well, later.

  • I fall over twigs, not cliffs
  • I fall on the sidewalk, not into the campfire
  • I have brilliant orthopedic surgeons
  • I have a navigation system in my car, so I can be constantly lost and still find my way
  • I have learned to take instruction and occasionally harsh criticism… I still cry easily, but also grow and improve

As I read what my dear sister, shinazy, writes about her marathon runs on each continent and her current training to climb Half Dome next month in Yosemite National Park… I can’t help but smile smugly and think:

Ha!  You and our other siblings may be super-smart athletes who can leap tall buildings in a single bound… but, ultimately, I won the big prize:

I was born a Baby Boomer, some time between 1946 and 1964.

And I was not left on the savannah!

 photo by shinazy (the very same shinazy mentioned in this story)

 

Cowboy Bill and the Ranch©

This story written by Bobbi Rankin

I still remember those long Sunday drives up the Bayshore, through the city and over the Golden Gate Bridge, on our way to the country, with the three of us sisters sitting in the backseat (without seatbelts) of our parents ’49 Plymouth.  The backseat felt huge and as we sank into the cushions, barely able to see out the windows.  Being the youngest, I saw only the sky as we rode over the bridge wanting to so badly to see the wide-open spaces of the ocean that stretch out to the west of us.  My sisters would often exclaim, “Look, I see a boat out on the bay, an unusual sight in those days.

My excitement soon overtook me and I cared less about the ocean or the boat, as we got closer to The Ranch.  The Ranch was where my cowboy Uncle Bill lived with his wife, Julie and their horses.  The Ranch is where the haylofts, buggies, horses and hammocks were beckoning me to hurry up.  As my mind swiftly began to enjoy my time there, I tried to stay calm but to no avail, annoying the heck out of my older sisters.  When we’d come to that last bend in the road, one of our parents would always say, “First one to see the house gets a pony” and we would immediately sit up, straining to look over the high front seats, wanting to be the one who gets that first glimpse of Uncle Bill’s Ranch.  I’d yell, “I see it, I see it” simultaneously with one of my sister…….” jinks, jinks you owe me a coke” she says to me as I waited in anticipation of getting out of the car and breathing in that wonderful hay and horse fill country air.  As far back as I can remember, I have always been tantalized by the smell of horses and hay.

As we climbed the big wooden stair to the front door, it swung open and there in its huge wooded frame stood my tall, rugged and good-looking Uncle, welcoming us into their home.  I was instantly engulfed with the familiar smells of leather, wood stove and wool rugs as if warm caring arms were wrapping themselves around me.  I loved that feeling.  I loved that place.  I loved being there.  I was in awe of my cowboy Uncle Bill.  Everywhere I looked; there was evidence of his personality and passions.

The simple Craftsman home fit their style and needs, two bedrooms and a bath, with an all-in-one living and dining area.  One of the first things I did upon arriving was to go look in my Uncle’s bedroom.  This bunkhouse style room was a delight for me, a one-day-only cowgirl.  The walls were paneled and hanging from them were his stirrups, holsters and a Stetsons hat.  He had a wooden bunk bed with an original Indian blanket for a cover.  Being born and reared near a Montana Reservation, the whole family was familiar to the ways and wears of the Crow and Blackfoot.  The wooded rocker atop a wood floor was the only other piece of furniture besides a small dresser.  The room spoke western, cowboy and manly.  I could just feel myself on a ranch is the wilds of Montana.  Stark is a good first impression but I could see his past and his present lifestyle all wrapped up in one.  If I was a cowgirl that day, this was my favorite room and I remember thinking that it must have smelled like a bunkhouse.

This was heaven to me or at least what I thought heaven should be or was it just that I was always so happy to be at the Ranch.  To me it felt like we had driven to another world or maybe Montana, for surely this is what Montana must be like.  I was sure the books I would read could never give me the thrills and adventures I had on the Ranch.

It was beginning to get dark as we climb back into the backseat of my parent’s car and begin our trip home.  That cowgirl was being left behind waiting for my return…..and I would return.  By the time we started over the bridge I would sit in anticipation of the foghorn as it signaled the approaching ships that the “gate’ into the bay, was near.  As we winded our way south through the city, I would slowly return to that city girl who had arrived at the Ranch just that morning.  My day-visit felt like a month, a place to become whoever I wanted to be and use my imagination in ways the city could never provide for me.  The many adventures left me tired for sure but bored, never!

photo by bobbi

WISDOM Wednesday: Mother’s Day Godmother©

A story by Malati Marlene Shinazy

Four months pregnant with my second child, I had a vivid dream  — The baby told me clearly that her name was Mary Daniele Erang, and, that she was inheriting all the wisdom of generations of women in our family.

Immediately, I asked my older friend Connie to be her godmother.  Connie was a deeply spiritual writer/poet, with no children of her own.  She gleefully agreed and then instructed me to name the child Jenna Rose.  For five-months I teased her that we planned to name the baby, “Mary Mother-of-God.”

No surprise… she was born looking exactly like Connie:

  •    Beach-ball shaped body
  •    Pursed lips and eyebrows
  •    Wispy reddish blond hair

When I called to tell Connie Mary Mother-of-God had just been born, she slammed down the phone with a quick, “Be right there.” Forty-five minutes later, she burst into the house, panting.

As the sun was lowering into the cold autumn sky, Connie and her goddaughter met face-to-face, and fell in love.

For the next two decades, Connie would immeasurably affect her goddaughter’s life.  Like a tribal ritual, Godmother and I talked, laughed, and argued over nearly every important decision of our daughter’s life.

Connie “allowed” us to name her, approved of my lengthy breast-feeding, and initially opposed sending her to a private girls’ school.  She agreed only after I exhibited research demonstrating the benefits to a girl’s self esteem and achievement.

Violin recitals were Godmother’s proudest early moments. From age 3 – 13, this wild young artist punctuated the baroque musical curriculum with her own passion and flair.

Indeed, she had inherited the gifts not only from her female lineage, as she prophesized in utero, but from Godmother as well:  She was awarded a rarely granted writing scholarship and had her choice of colleges, worldwide.

Connie insisted she consider Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which is to fine arts what Julliard is to music.  To placate Godmother, our daughter reluctantly flew from CA to RI.

Connie later reported that her goddaughter engaged the admission counselors with several hours of questions and comments.  She was immediately accepted and eventually chose this demanding program.

She studied with honors in Italy, and produced work in most mediums.  The awe-inspiring reflections of her inner world and outer opinion became trophies of Connie’s deep knowledge of her goddaughter. Connie became the proudest and happiest Godmother of all time!

She studied with honors in Italy, and produced work in most mediums.  The awe-inspiring reflections of her inner world and outer opinion became trophies of Connie’s deep knowledge of her goddaughter. Connie became the proudest and happiest Godmother of all time!

Under the weight of her body, Connie’s health waned during those college years.  Nevertheless, she drove six hours to attend RISD’s hot spring graduation on the streets of downtown Providence.

Seeing her child walk the diploma aisle punctuated Connie’s life.  We both sobbed with joyous love and pride.  We held each other’s sweaty arms and later, walked ever-so-slowly to the reception.

During this stroll, I realized that our dream-speaking young woman-daughter fulfilled not only an element of her own destiny that day, but part of Connie-the-Godmother’s as well.

Happy Mother’s Day!

photo by malati marlene shinazy