All posts filed under: Family

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Flowers Before My Father’s Funeral

I opened the front door to let the yard guy in. “Come on,” I said. “Talk to my daddy.” He walked a few steps behind me as I headed toward the TV room where Daddy sits every day in his brown leather Barcalounger. “Daddy, this is… wait, tell me your name again?” “Austin.” “Right. Daddy, this is Austin. He just finished clearing out the gutters and stuff outside.” “How much do we owe you, sir?” Daddy asked. “A hundred and fifty dollars,” Austin answered. Then, as Daddy begins writing out the check, Austin said, “Are you a veteran, sir?” “That’s what they tell me,” Daddy said. “Well, thank you for your service,” Austin replied. He paused, and then, “What you watching there?” At this point, Austin, who looks like he’s in his thirties, was nearly yelling. He was following my lead, I suppose, since I, too, had been loudly shout-talking with my 85-year-old father even though I was just a couple feet away from him. But now that Austin was in on it — doing …

Letters to the Editor, From the Daughter of a Slave

In the late 1800s, my great-grandmother Josephine started writing to the Southwestern Christian Advocate, a newspaper based in New Orleans that primarily served black Methodist Episcopalians in the south. At first, her notes were two or three line missives – “I am a girl sixteen years old. I take the Southwestern and enjoy reading it. My sister died April 18, 1889.” But by the time she was almost 19 and soon to be married, she was writing editorials. They’re very spicy. She says stuff like, “A bold and specious humanitarianism is destroying worship” and “Heart sins that are not opposed, not warred against arrest prayer.” I’ve spent long passages of time rereading her words, trying to understand what exactly was destroying worship, twisting my hair and equating her editorials to wars against all the things she must have been up against. She was the youngest child like me. Her parents were a former slave and her former master. One of her brothers was lynched in a manner so dramatic that news of it appeared in …

Siblings at Odds: He’s an Evangelical Preacher, I’m an Atheist

Is he a good person? Yes. Am I a good person? I try to be. Do I love him? Yes. Do I like him? What, like all the time? It’s complicated. This is us, 38 years ago. Look at those smiles. They aren’t forced. There’s love there, connection. We were born six years apart, too far to be peers or really even friends. This photo may have been snapped during our happiest time as siblings. Once I started talking, I became annoying. I’d belt out the Annie Soundtrack at the top of my lungs and he’d grit his teeth, knowing complaints wouldn’t get him anywhere. I would rat him out for the tiniest indiscretions. He’d kick me in the back seat of our VW Vanagon camper then smile innocently and shrug when my dad met his eyes in the rearview mirror. We were essentially two only children living in the same household. One handsome, athletic and wildly popular. The other chubby, musical and an abysmal social failure. I do not remember us as close. Only …

The Walker Kids Are All Right

We, the Walkers, are a tough crowd. Thanks to our loving and clever parents, we saw This is Spinal Tap in the theatre, which was pretty cutting edge at the time. We grew up memorizing lines from Raising Arizona and, when the Sunday comics were passed around, we knew why Doonesbury and Bloom County were funny. We made fun of each other like seasoned stand-up comedians, going for the laugh even if it was a little too sharp. When my sister Megan walked in after a particularly pixie-esque haircut, my brother Christopher looked at her and said: “Don’t ever do that again.” It was easy to get along for the most part because the three of us are close in age. My sister and I are 17 months apart, and my brother and I are 20 months apart. Megan is a Type-A firstborn; anything she does is done well, done to perfection. Trust me. Whether she is painting a bathroom, volunteering at school or making hollandaise, she is at the top of her game. She …

When Number Two is Number One: My Big Little Brother

Never forget. This is what we’re told about September 11th. Most of us couldn’t forget if we tried. The images of twisted steel and even more twisted faces have grabbed our memories with a grip that will not ease. What we remember differs from person to person depending on how close each stood to the epicenter. My dearest friend on the East Coast, who was working in the adjacent building, keeps the memories the media cannot convey — the moans of breaking metal, the smells of a city ablaze, the breath of a stricken populace racing by. My dearest friend on the West Coast remembers only that her local coffee shop didn’t open that morning. I, protected by the tall walls of a Missouri college that fateful day, have a dimming recollection of cancelled classes and a candlelight vigil on that particular 9/11, but September 11th has always been a day of seismic change for me. Because my brother was born that day. Shaun was the second and final child of my parents, and as …

After a Loss, My Sister Stopped My World From Falling Apart

  When I think of my big sister, I think of that person who always knows what to say and always knows what to do. I can count on her to come up with a plan or solution to just about any problem. She’s my lighthouse. I imagine a little lighthouse that is white with a deep blue trim, sitting as strong and firm as the rocky coast it’s perched upon, lighting my way for a safe passage. I’m the ship, sailing up and down the coast from port to port. I sail past the lighthouse and wave. Give a little “all is ok!” sign as I pass. My sister winks back and lets me know all is right in her world too. As one would expect, every now and then my ship sails through a storm. “Ok, I can handle this,” I think as I grit my teeth, grab the wheel and tug on the lines. I steady myself, weather the storm and give my usual wave to the lighthouse up on the rocks. …

Out of Time: How My Teenager Fell in Love With R.E.M.

My son doesn’t remember the first time an R.E.M song soothed him, but I tell him the story often, much to his chagrin. He was not even a month old, screaming his lungs out, defying sleep as only an infant can. My younger brother Philip, about 25 at the time, grabbed him from me. The song “Electrolite” was playing and Philip rocked my rapidly quieting son in rhythm, singing along softly, “Don’t be scared…you are alive.” Not a typical lullaby, by any stretch. But I’d always been a big music lover and in particular, a lover of R.E.M. Since 1982, R.E.M. had a song for whatever mood I was in, milestones I celebrated, or challenges I faced. In early 1997, R.E.M.’s album, New Adventures In Hi Fi was just a few months older than my son, and it eased and guided me through shifting postpartum emotions that were amplified by exhaustion. That night, as my son wondrously nodded off, I saw music settle him as it had so often settled me. It was one of …

My Grandfather Gave My Girlfriend $2 — Here’s Why That’s Important

My grandfather’s name was Sam. He was my father’s father and spent his adult life first as a traveling salesman and then running a grocery store in Omaha, Nebraska, where my grandfather and his family were among the small crop of Jews in town. In my mind, this is what made my grandfather extra Jewish — the sense of belonging to a tiny tribe wandering within a wide desert of Christianity. Whatever the reason, when my grandparents found out I was dating a woman their first question was, “Is she Jewish?” Sam had a tradition of giving a $2 bill to every one of his children and grandchildren. Spouses included. The idea was to keep the $2 bill in your wallet in case of emergencies. And then if you ever needed to spend it, you would write a letter to Sam explaining the reason why you had to use the bill and he would issue you a new one. I remember stories about one cousin using her $2 bill at a tollbooth on the turnpike, another …

Why I Kind of Hate Disney World

If you asked me to describe my worst vacation scenario, it would go something like this: The destination is perpetually crowded, it’s hot and noisy, the accommodations are bland at best, the food is unhealthy and unappetizing, I must wait in line to do anything, and I have to pay a sizable sum of money to have the crap scared out of me several times a day. Sound like fun to you? Then you must be a fan of Disney World. As you might have guessed, I am not. But it’s not Disney’s fault. On the contrary, I believe that for those who are so inclined, the place is top-notch. I don’t get the appeal, but I know that even grown-ups without children visit the park regularly. Some couples even honeymoon with Goofy. And for those people, Disney definitely hits the spot. You might assume I have shunned The Mouse’s kingdom, refusing to set foot near a single spinning teacup. But you would be wrong. For not only have I stomped my boots at the Country …

Snapshots of a 100+ Person Family Picnic

When I was a teenager I loathed family reunions. “How is school?” “Where do you plan to go to college?” “Do you have a boyfriend?” Questions that have no real answers. Adolescent hell. I loved my aunts and uncles, and even when I was at my most socially awkward, “I hate it,” “I don’t know,” and “hell no” seemed like dismissive answers, and would have for sure gotten me in trouble. I opted for “Fine,” “I don’t know — University of Maryland, probably,” and “Uh, no.” Simple and marginally true. Our summer picnic on the Chesapeake Bay and the yearly Christmas party were non-negotiable family obligations, however. And even at 15 I knew that these huge events — and my family — were too important to skip, no matter how I felt about it. My grandfather was the oldest of 18 siblings born over a span of 20 years. No one in his generation moved from the DC area, so these gatherings were glue for them and their children, and eventually my generation, the great-grandchildren. …

Comfort and Oy! Raising Kids in a Mixed-Faith Household

When my daughter was eight years old, she came home from school troubled. “Someone in my class said that Santa is not real,” she said. Her younger brother laughed. “But of course Santa is real! Otherwise, who’s that guy at the mall?” Thankfully, my daughter seemed satisfied with this answer. I sighed with relief and, not for the first time, thought, “I am completely unequipped to handle this Santa stuff.” I grew up Jewish, in a suburb of Boston. We celebrated Chanukah. We did not have a Christmas tree, or give each other Christmas presents. On Christmas day we did what all Jewish people do: we saw a movie and then went out for Chinese food. Many of the kids in my neighborhood, and in my school, were Jewish, so it never occurred to me to feel left out, or different. I married an Episcopalian, and while neither of us is terribly religious, both of us feel it’s very important to pass our family traditions on to our children. So we celebrate both Easter and …

My Kids Don’t Need Me Anymore and That’s Just Fine

I celebrated my first official Mother’s Day 24 years ago. When I think back on what I loved most about those early days of parenting, what floats to the surface seems both obvious and surprising. It wasn’t how cute my son Nick was, though both he and Peter, the brother who followed two years later, were ridiculously adorable. It wasn’t how delicious their downy heads smelled or how gummy their smiles were or even how incredible it felt to hold their little bodies in my arms. What moved me most about being a mother was how much my children needed me. The fact is that as infants they needed me for everything, and without me, they would not survive. What a sense of power I felt. I had not only given life to these miraculous creatures, I was singlehandedly sustaining them with my nourishment and nurturance. No one has needed me like that before or since. Lots of new moms complain about the infant days, which consist almost exclusively of feedings and diaper changes, carried …

The Plate-Spinning Act of Being a Transgender Parent

A little more than week has passed since Bruce Jenner’s “coming out” interview with Diane Sawyer, which was seen by nearly 17 million viewers. To many of us in the transgender and gender non-conforming community, the interview has come to be viewed as a watershed event of sorts, primarily because it has prompted a conversation about transgender people in all corners of the country. People who may not have previously been interested in transgender issues are now discussing them, whether around the water cooler in the office (do they actually still make water coolers?) or as a part of dinner time conversations at home. I’m making the assumption here that families still do, on occasion, actually share dinner together. Regardless of where they are happening, the fact remains, that they are happening — in greater numbers, perhaps, than ever before. Venues aside, it’s clear that these conversations are contributing to the national narrative and shedding further light on the larger issues of workplace discrimination, homelessness and suicide that continue to plague large segments of the …

Role Reversal: When My Mom Went Back to School

Four days prior to Christmas, I was the idiot running around Target with a cart full of decorations to put up around my home because apparently I need to invest in a calendar to tell me that a major holiday is fast approaching and perhaps I should think about, you know, participating in some way. Here is photographic evidence of my 10 p.m. Friday night shenanigans. Unfortunately there is no selfie of my look of panic as I decided how many strings of lights I needed for a yet-to-be-purchased tree. This past holiday season was the first in which I had to take the lead. There was no mother around to purchase a tree and make sure the cat didn’t try to use it as a jungle gym. She wasn’t there to put out the photos my younger brother and I had taken with Santa or to tell me which ornaments should go where. I don’t know about your mother, but my mother always just made the spirit of Christmas and all that encompasses it …

I Learned To Be a Feminist From My Single Mom

She just stood there, not moving, staring at a closed door. I was standing behind her, having come to the same complete stop as she did. I was confused as to why she wasn’t moving anymore. I was seven. Then it dawned on me: she was waiting for me to open that door for her. She didn’t tell me as such; she showed me. That was my mom. The household I grew up in placed a high premium on manners. There was a way things worked, and it was not to be fucked with. That last sentence, for example, would not have flown in my house. My sister and I were taught all about elbows and tables and sir and ma’am and eye contact and, of course, door holding. Though we resided below the Mason Dixon line, barely (Bethesda, Maryland), this all had nothing to do with Southern concepts of proper behavior. In fact, it had more to do with feminism. I am a feminist. I have been one my whole life, though I didn’t …

Mommy and Mookie: Living Up to Our Nicknames

  I reluctantly befriended my mother on Facebook last month. It was a move I’d resisted for obvious reasons. I regularly fire f-bombs and reveal snippets from weekly sessions with my psychiatrist. Plus, I have a weird phobia that one of these days someone with whom I’ve had sex will tag me in a post about my vagina. And it won’t be euphemistic. In fact, it’ll be horrifyingly accurate. It might even be a selfie that I sent him while we were sexting. I trust that my partners have more discretion than that. But you never know. And when it comes to the fear of social-media humiliation, your mind spirals into worst-case-scenario thinking. And, I mean, we’re all capable of being crazy muthaf*ckas on Facebook. Until a month ago, I’d taken a hiatus from Facebook for nearly two years.  But when I became active again, my mom’s name popped up in my “people you may know” queue. So I sent her a friend request. I should tell you: My mom had sent me a friend …

You Say Rachel, I Say Rebecca

“Pooooooosh, Rachel! You can do it!” The delivery nurse had a strong Brazilian accent. It was one of the things I’d noticed most about her while she repeatedly shouted my name in her role as coach in the final throes of my labor. She’d appeared halfway through the pushing phase, after the entire previous team ended their twelve-hour shift. I also noticed something else. “Rebecca!” I wheezed, between pushes. “My name is Rebecca!” There she stood, at my right side, her eyes fixated on the doula across the delivery table whom early on she’d deemed an unwelcome adversary on her turf. Whenever the doula would suggest something to the medical staff in an effort to be helpful, the nurse would exaggeratedly roll her eyes to the ceiling and whisper a little complaint in my ear. When the doula would give me verbal encouragement — “Rebecca, you’re being so strong!” — the nurse would toss in her two cents: “Almost there, Rachel!” As though, on principle, refusing to be on the same page whatsoever as anything …

Giving My Daughter a Chinese Name

When I was expecting my daughter, my husband and I of course started to talk about names for the baby. The discussion dragged on for months without really getting anywhere. The names I liked, he didn’t, and the names he liked, I was like, “Really?” I began to appreciate how much culture is just as tied up in a name as the meaning or the sound. While all this was going on, I confided in my Southern-born Mom.“Well, I wanted to call you ‘Scarlett’ you know,” she told me. I vaguely remembered. “Yes,” she went on. “But your Dad didn’t want to because he was worried that you’d be a bookworm with a name of a hoyden.” Thanks, Dad. My husband’s last name is Ha, which was something we had to take into consideration. We both rolled our eyes when random servers at restaurants would give him back his debit card and invariably say, “Aha!” To note that, yes, his first name begins with an “A,” and yes, his last name is “Ha.” Put them …

The K. Warner Guide to Naming Your Child

When Kelsey McCook Warner was born in June 1989, my husband and I were grateful, ecstatic and a bit relieved. But nearly eight years later, during my second pregnancy, I realized that the name “Kelsey” — one that we both loved — had created a problem I could have never imagined. Not too long after we learned the sex of our second child (a boy!), I blithely pulled out a yellowed list of names that we had considered when naming our first child in 1989. I added a few new names to the list, then rambled them off to my husband. He didn’t say much. At first, I didn’t pay attention to his non-responsiveness, but after it went on for a good 20 minutes, I realized that I was talking to myself. “Hellloooooooo?” I said. “What do you think? We’ve got a good ten names here, and we’ve got a few months to decide.” Silence. I chose to ignore the body language. “Ken?!” Looking uncomfortable yet determined, and with a certain set to his jaw that …

Am I a Better Mother When I’m in the Car?

The rain came down so hard that night 10 years ago I couldn’t tell where one droplet ended and another began. The New Jersey Turnpike looked like a black creek. The windshield wipers were heavy and sluggish as they tried to move enormous quantities of water. I was driving on my first solo trip with the most precious and delicate thing I had ever known, my one-year-old daughter. The struggle to get her in the car seat (when the rain was just a gentle twilight drizzle) had been the epic event it always was with her. The screaming. The back arching. The kicking in my face. It had come after an hour or so of chaotic packing, eating, chasing. My little girl had a mind of her own since birth, and I was perpetually exhausted trying not so much to tame her, but to channel her. But as a I stole a glance at her in the rearview mirror during that furious storm, her face was utter calm. Mine was pale and terrified. I told …

Ode to an ‘80s Station Wagon

The day I turned 16, my parents took me out into our front yard and showed me a car, which had “IT’S YOURS!” written on the windows in soap. It was a big, clunky slap in the face parked where my something-else, new and shiny (and not brown) vehicle should have been. What’s the worst thing you can do to a dorky high school teen? Make her drive a station wagon. A brown one. And not one of those real old ones with the fun flip seats in the back. This one was called the Aries K, and I think it was a Dodge. It was horrid. Mom took me for my driver’s test. It was a Friday and I knew I would pass the exam with flying colors. I had aced behind the wheel, and the written test was cake. But I did not pass the exam with any sorts of color whatsoever. I was literally finishing the test, turning back into the DMV when — SUPPOSEDLY — a school bus turned on its “don’t …

Why I Paid My Son to Learn

Last week, my son returned from visiting a school he may attend next fall and said, “Mom, they all know multiplication and I don’t.” I replied, “You can learn multiplication in a snap. Why don’t I teach you?” His response: “No, that’s okay, I just want to play Minecraft.” I’m not concerned with video games. As a young girl, I played many hours of Nintendo a day. Now as CEO of DailyWorth, I attribute much of my entrepreneurial prowess to skills I acquired maneuvering technology, facing death (“game over”) only to start again. But if there’s one thing I hate about modern video games, it’s that they sell “upgrades” within games. They charge actual money to advance. I find this grotesque and vehemently deny my son’s requests for purchased advancement. It’s a ridiculous thing to spend money on. I stand by that. But this night, when my son asked for a $30 upgrade pack, an idea hit. What if I was able to use this perfect storm (money! video games! multiplication!) to show my son how …

Become a Bloom? Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes

The decision to change your last name when getting married is fraught for many women — especially feminists. Strangely for me, a woman who has been comfortable with the feminist label since I was a young girl, changing my name was a no-brainer. My reasons for choosing the name-change route are personal and have as much to do with my husband’s last name, Bloom, as they do with the institution of marriage. First, some history. I was born in America to immigrant parents who never expected to stay here. The plan was four years of university for my father, then a few years of work. Nothing more than that. But life happened and we stayed. Naturally, since they’re Israeli they gave me a Hebrew first name. I mean, why wouldn’t they? It’s their first language and was mine as well. As luck would have it my last name was a mouthful. But one that is both culturally and historically significant. The name is Ashkenazi. Take it from me, Naama Ashkenazi is not an easy name …

Can a Procrastinating Mom Change Her Procrastinating Son?

Some nights, I’d hear him puttering around in his room. Maybe he’d drop the tennis ball he was tossing up in the air and it would bounce across his bedroom floor. Or I’d realize he was poking around on Spotify, playing a fragment of one pop song, then a fragment of another. He’d only stop when I’d call out: “Are you really finishing your homework?” Silence. Then a highly unconvincing “Yes!” would fill the air. “You’ve got to stop wasting time,” I’d say in my most grown-up voice. “It’s almost bedtime and you’re still doing homework. The only person that hurts is you. You know you won’t want to get up for school tomorrow if you don’t get some sleep tonight. You said an hour ago you were tired. Just get your work done.” Just get your work done. I sounded so sure of myself. If he could have seen me on a hidden camera, he would have discovered that I was wandering around on Facebook, scrolling endlessly, pointlessly, through quippy comments and cat photos, pausing only …

An Outsider on the Inside (Sometimes)

My first swear word was “shit.” I used it in a very specific and, I might add, sophisticated way. I was three years old, sitting in the back seat of a car. My grandmother and another adult were in the front. They were talking about my mom, clearly assuming that a toddler wouldn’t understand. Much to their shock and amusement, I cut off their gossiping with: “Don’t be talking about my momma! Sheeee-it.” Yes, reportedly I delivered it with that precise, very adult, multi-syllabic and sassy intonation: “Sheeee-it.” It was my first time witnessing a conversation that upset my sense of loyalty. It wasn’t my last. As a Mash-Up, I often get an up-close view of bigotry, because people don’t know their bigotry applies to the person standing right next to them — me. [pullquote]People can be completely reprehensible in their attitude towards “others” when they think no one outside the fold is listening.[/pullquote] I’m not alone. My mixed friends have heard their own family members say racially or ethnically derogatory things in front of …

TueNight Labels Kathleen Warner

When Being “The Good One” Isn’t So Great

The good one. The smart one. The athlete. The artist. The drama queen. The baby. The rebel. The sensitive one. The brat. The loudmouth. The playwright. Being the eldest of five children, with only eight years between me and my youngest brother, my beleaguered and exhausted parents often used shortcuts to keep us all straight. As the “good” and “smart” one, I had it easy, at least for a while. I was diligent and studious, I got good grades and my teachers sang my praises. What could be bad about that? Seemingly nothing, when operating in the outside world of teachers, other adults and the like. [pullquote]The hardest part was to re-write the narrative of who I was based on what I had internalized from other people’s expectations. [/pullquote] But within my family, my sibling relationships suffered, particularly with my brothers. I was only one year apart from one of my brothers and, as little kids, we were inseparable. He was creative and smart, played soccer and the guitar, and had a broad and sophisticated …

Letters from parents TueNight

Family Archivist: Why I’m the Only One Who Still Writes Letters

I come from one of those annoyingly functional intact families that make it hard for me to sell my memoir to publishers. Of course, the rosy vision I have of my family relations is helped by the fact that I live, by choice, three thousand miles away from them in the Bay Area, and have for 20 years. It’s easier to idolize my parents and siblings (and vice versa) when we’re not rubbing right up against each other every day. Even if the cross-country move was entirely my doing, once I became a parent the fact that I was the outer moon to their cozy hometown Family Planet became harder to bear. When Mom and Dad wanted to see my brother’s and sister’s kids perform in a school music showcase or volleyball game, it required a drive that ranged from five to thirty-five minutes (depending on the snow). To see my kids perform, it requires advanced airline reservations, a transfer in Chicago, and three days for them to get over jet lag. Seeing Grandma and …

Letters TueNight Amy Barr

Note Never Sent: To the Mother Whose Son Assaulted Mine

On a rainy Friday night not so long ago, my son Nick was assaulted by a fellow student in a bar near the college they both attended. They were strangers at the time. It seems that in a drunken state, the young man mistook Nick for someone else, someone who triggered an outburst of violence. The incident lasted about three seconds. No words were exchanged and only one punch was thrown, but it was enough to put my son in the hospital with a concussion and a broken eye socket. That weekend was awful. Nick looked terrible and felt worse. But just as disturbing as the worry and pain associated with the assault were the events that followed, which sent our family reeling. We were profoundly disappointed by the school’s disciplinary process, which let the assailant off the hook and left Nick feeling victimized all over again. It also taught us some harsh lessons about justice. As for me, I went from feeling anxious to being outraged, not only at the University but also at …

5 Gifts For Kids That They Don’t Already Have

Gift giving for children gets harder and harder as kids get more and more sophisticated. Outwit the little ones this year with presents they could never find on a TV screen or through an app. Warning: You may have to reach into your own past…   1. “Vintage” Star Wars belt buckle You DID watch the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, right? Episode VII of the series? No…? That’s OK, I’ll wait while you check it out. From now until December 2015, you’ll need to know enough about the movie to talk to any kid over the age of 8. Impress them (and their folks) with an eBay original that might just remind you of your own days of yore. $35, eBay.com   2. The Drawing Robot Speaking of R2D2, check out this super cute robot. Your DIY-loving kid can put it together using cardboard, tape, a little wiring and a battery. Add pens and turn it on, and this is a mini marvel. Include another robot and tape on a couple of …

Thirty Years of Thank You

Q: What do you do if you miss your mother-in-law? A: Reload and try again. That’s one of my favorite mother-in-law jokes, which I tell with impunity here because I actually love my mother-in-law. In fact, as I sat down to ponder the subject of gratitude and who I am grateful to have in my life, hers was the first face that popped into my head. Truth be told, I also thought of my dog, which led me to consider what my MIL and my terrier have in common, besides a passion for dark meat turkey. I reckoned they both come whenever I call them and they both let me know how much they love me all the time. The fact I “got” Barbara simply by marrying her son is a total bonus. For three decades, she has spoiled me with kindness, not to mention skillets full of crispy brown rice and wheat berries (my fave) and buckets of hot fudge sauce (my other fave). Without preaching, she’s taught me much about being a good …