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Barbara Stanifer

A Little Bit More

Photo credit : Soumi Haldar

As in all her stories, Barbara looks at little things in life, values them and delves into the deeper aspect that usually get ignored. Here is the latest gem from Barbara Stanifer.


Continue reading “A Little Bit More”

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Never Give Up


Continuing with our adventure stories, Barbara Stanifer shares with us her experience hiking up Mt.Whitney. An observation during her regular walk through the neighborhood reminds her of the hike that she did, not once but twice. 
On a walk through my neighborhood the other day, I passed a mom, a dad and 4, count em’ 4 little girls between 10 and maybe 6. They had stopped at the steep concrete “hill” under the overpass. The girls had climbed up the hill and all but one had made it back down. The little one was stuck at the top, lacking confidence in her ability to get down. They all waited as she squirmed and turned this way and that, trying to muster some courage. The dad stood at the bottom and kept calmly telling her she could do it, and reassuring her when she made a move in the right direction.
Watching all this reminded me of a trip I took up Mt. Whitney several years ago.  Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states.  If you make it to the top you’re standing at 14,505 feet!  There are people who actually run up this mountain and might say it’s just another walk in the park. One man probably twice my age, in dolphin shorts and tennis shoes, ran right past me as I huffed and puffed.  And there are other people like myself who were never athletic or necessarily adventurous, who take 3 days to do the whole thing and feel quite proud of themselves for even considering it.  I made the trip with my brother and his wife who fall more into the athletic, adventurer category.
On that particular trip there was quite a bit of snow on the trail starting a little above 12,000 feet. Which meant you had to ascend by digging your feet deep into the snow and ice (ideally wearing crampons) and to descend you’d have to slide down a 1,000-foot snow chute (ideally with an ice ax – or at minimum a hiking pole – to self arrest if necessary). The evening before we were supposed to summit, a guy got “stuck” at the top of that chute. Very similar to the little girl on the concrete hill, he was terrified. He sat up there for hours, with everyone at base camp watching him from below. His friends yelling words of encouragement… He didn’t come down until late that night, not sure if he slid down or painstakingly dug a million footsteps into the snow.  A ranger told us the next day that it was indeed dangerous and that someone just the week before had died when they slid down and piled into one of the giant boulders sticking out of the snow.  I felt pretty sure that I would be that guy – sitting for hours at the top of that 1,000 foot slide, analyzing, terrified, freezing… I made the decision to turn back, vowing to return again and make it to the top.  I felt like I had failed. 
This father of 4 girls was still standing patiently at the bottom of the cement hill guiding his daughter.  The oldest one clearly tired of waiting said, “Dad you know you could just go up there and get her”. The dad said “I know I could, but I also know she can do this on her own.”
I so admired this man’s approach and confidence in his daughter.  If I, or the guy sitting at the top of that 1,000-foot snow slide had a dad like that would things have been different?  Would I have grown up the kind of person who gleefully laughs in the face of giant boulders whizzing past me as I uncontrollably slide like a greased pig down a mountain of ice?  Maybe…  Here’s what I do know.  I have a mom, who didn’t just preach tenacity, but modeled it at every turn.  An equally valuable lesson I think is that when you do fall or fail, dust yourself off and get back up again.  Keep on keeping on!  The following year I did go back and I did make it to the top.  And I think that summit may have actually been sweeter. 

We all hope that the little girl made it down on her own.  But maybe we should also celebrate the simple fact that she was willing to boldly follow her sisters up that concrete hill.  Maybe we should respect that she didn’t just sit down and cry, but she tenaciously kept trying to figure it out.  Maybe we should honor the next 5 times she climbs up that hill whether she makes it down on her own or not…  We should celebrate all kinds of victories in others and in ourselves, the “try”, the “get back up again” not just the obvious win. They all count and sometimes the ones that are hardest fought, through fear and self-doubt make us more triumphant.  

The Thing About Tough Love…


Foreword By Piya Mukherjee : It is not every day that a parent gets a pat on his / her shoulder. When was the last time someone ever told you that you were freaking awesome as a parent?  And for that very reason this story by Barbara Stanifer is a must read for all parents. It will make your day (I smiled and did a little dance when I read it) and make you want to send her a Thank You note for all the kind words, acknowledgement and appreciation she expresses about what parents do. Like always her story is from her observation in the course of her day.
On my walk this morning there was a mom a dad and two boys probably 5 and 7, all riding bikes.  Going around a corner the youngest boy bit the dust – literally – wound up in the dirt, skidded for a bit.  The mom rides on, the dad stops and as the older boy approaches the scene the dad tells him to keep riding.  The little one is sitting on the ground crying.  The dad pulls him up and says a few times, “brush it off, stay strong”. 
I think to myself do dads really still say that to their sons?  I want to say out loud geeze hug him, don’t give him the don’t cry, be a man crap.  Then the dad says, “dude, you were focusing on me and where I was on the path, you just focus on you and everything will be fine”.  A few minutes later, they both pass me from behind, the Dad is riding well ahead of the little one and the kid is good to go.  No tears, riding confidently – and as they round the corner the mom sees him and shouts out “whoo hoo, yay Josh!”  And now I want to cry.

I thought this is such a testament to why kids need both the soft love AND the tough love and that is ideally delivered as a team.  If I were his mom, the kid would probably never get back on the bike again – with all the “poor baby” I’d lay on him.  I was so impressed by this dad, he knew exactly what was needed to get his son confidently back on that bike – that the ultimate job of a parent is to raise self-assured, productive humans not just make them comfortable.  
He knew it had to be a focused conversation between he and his youngest son that the older one needed to ride on so the little one didn’t feel embarrassed.  He explained why it happened so the kid could self correct and understood that the old adage still holds true about “getting back up on the horse” being the best way to conquer fear. 
I know for you parents out there this is just daily existence, one that some days you get right and other days you get wrong.  It’s a tough job you have, cheers to all of you who master the large and small victories every day!  Good parents are freaking awesome!

Treasures


A magnolia pod can be looked at just a flower. Or you could look at it as metaphor or a treasure. Barbara Stanifer, chooses to look at it as the latter. As in all her stories, Barbara looks at little things in life, values them and delves into the deeper aspect that usually get ignored. The ladies at Chatoveracuppa fell in love with this story, perhaps because we could relate to it in our own way. Hope you find a relation too. 

I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of Ralphs, I couldn’t tear myself away from the tail end of an interview on npr.  Looking down and listening intently, my magnolia pod caught my eye.  It’s been nestled in my console for about a month now.  I love magnolias they have a nostalgic tie to the tree that brought me shade and beauty and daydreaming every summer in my Grandma’s backyard.  They are stunning you can’t pass one by without noticing, elegant and graceful, yet strong and enduring.  Their petals seem to be made of industrial fibers, sprouting out from a nutty, meaty center.  They call to you like arms of a prima ballerina gently whispering for you to come closer and you imagine that if they ever got a hold of you they’d capture you in an embrace that felt like a cocoon of quiet and grace, you’d float weightless, secure and understood.  These elements encompass how I’d like to be viewed as a woman. 
And then the flower gives way to the pod, which is equally beautiful in the way each season after spring has it’s own beauty.  More interesting…  It’s just a woody thing with a tuft of yellowy fuzz, spirals of brown that look like martian antennae and a “trunk” that looks like it came from the closet of a cougar – all leopard print.  I love this pod for all these things it represents, for who gifted it to me and maybe for the metaphor about aging I’ve attached to it. 

I am no longer in the spring of my life; I’m no longer a dewy shiny thing in body or mind.  But maybe there’s still something interesting about me, something still worth displaying or keeping as a traveling companion in the warm console of a car.  Dust me off every now and then and let me remind you of our history, of your history.  Appreciate the strength of my being that let me survive each transition and make it this far.  Use me to sow the beginnings of another generation of thought or love or action.  Collect me and consider me a treasure.  

This is how this little magnolia pod came to live in my car, as I was leaving my sister’s house, my three year old nephew called out “Barb, do you want a treasure?”  Nothing could have filled me with more joy!  A gift from this little human I love so much and a gift that I so genuinely enjoy at that.  That kid is something, I’m sure I am projecting – but he is truly in tune with people’s inner workings even at three.  I swear the look in his eye as he handed it to me was that he understood all that I did about the specialness of magnolia pods.

Story and Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer. 

Amazing Grace



For me going to the Hollywood bowl is as synonymous with summer as swimming pools and eating ice cream.  Live music, communing with friends under the stars on a warm night, the good stuff of life all in one place…  I inaugurated summer 2014 with James Taylor this past weekend.   Sitting there listening to the lyric “shower the people you love with love” I was jetted back to the summer of 2006.

 When I was 12 and my sister was 6 we got a new dad and three new brothers.  Russ wasn’t a step dad to us, he was just dad.  He breathed life and love back into my mom, my sister and I.  The kind of love you knew you could fall back on and it would catch you.  He was the complete opposite of everything our lives had been up to that point.  A gregarious, life of the party kind of man, he taught us to be out in nature, to water ski and camp, to just relax into life, and simultaneously toughen up our outer thin skins.  He had a weathered, manly exterior stuffed with a nougat of kindness and compassion.  He carried the weight of the world on his shoulders, but he propped it up there with the one hand while enjoying life with the other, dancing at parties and singing in the car. He taught us to work hard and play hard and that a man can contain multitudes of love and emotion.

 My sister and I had tickets to see Al Green at the Hollywood bowl near the end of August 2006.  By the time the concert rolled around we had learned that Russ at the age of 65 had pancreatic cancer.  When people talk about the five stages of grief, they’re not kidding, it’s not a cliché.  So with just two weeks of cancer under our belt my sister and I were fully steeped in denial.  We all spent our free time looking up healthy diets, alternative treatments, curative teas – certain we could beat this thing.  We were a strong, tight-knit family who had overcome so many odds; we could definitely get to the other side of this.  There had been tears, but not when we were together.  When we were together we were proactive, positive, busy…

So there we were under the stars in the warm night air my sister and I, doing what Russ had taught us to do relaxing into life.   Al Green lifted the mic to his reverend – rock star lips and sang Amazing Grace and the crowd of thousands sang too.  And the tears came and came.  Finally, we cried together, we held hands and saw a glimmer of  “acceptance” that lay far ahead in the distance.  As we left the bowl, inching along in a penguin waddle the way you do when you dismount a stadium full of people.  The crowd broke into song, hundreds of people squashed together with no care of whether they had a good voice or a bad voice belted out “Let’s Stay Together” in unison.

My sister and I, faces swollen with sadness sang too, we sang because Russ taught us no matter how bad things get, go ahead and sing, go ahead and let happiness win.  In the egotistical way that we humans can sometimes believe that things are meant just for us, it felt like that crowd wrapped around us in a cumulative hug as if to say it’s ok – go ahead and feel this sad thing that’s happening to you, we’ll be here to catch you.

 Father’s Day is coming up, I think of Russ I still miss him but I am so grateful that we got a second chance at a dad, that our dad was a man who let both his strengths and weaknesses show.  A man who let us know in words and action that he loved us completely – we kids who were not his own flesh and blood – he loved us completely anyway.

This story has been contributed by Barbara Stanifer. Barbara writes a great deal about human relationships. Her life experiences are enriching for others. Shirley and now Russ, the Chatoveracuppa team is grateful to Barbara for being so forthcoming in sharing her personal stories always. 

Shirley

Shirley. Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer


The world is mourning the loss of Dr.Maya Angelou, a legendary author, great human being,  wonderful storyteller, an inspiration and lot more. Social media is buzzing with her quotes, poems and stories. She was undoubtedly a strong influence for women across the globe. In our story today, Barbabra Stanifer takes this opportunity to remember other such strong female influences in her own life.

With the passing of Maya Angelou, it has me reminiscing on the strong female influences in my life, I’m lucky in that I have many.  But when I conjure up one that makes me feel that kind of love I’ve been reading about in the various quotes being passed around today, I think of Shirley.  I refer to her as my grandmother, but we are not actually blood related.  She was our neighbor and I was four when she came into our lives. She saved us, all of us.  My mother desperately needed mothering and she gave her that.  I needed affection and she provided that in spades and when my sister was born, she was a babysitter in a pinch.  Her husband CB (who I refer to as my grandfather) was a giant of a man in physicality and heart.  Their house was my sanctuary, in my memory it was glowy warm, it always smelled like bread dough and it was comfort and love in its purest form. 

Barbara and her sister with Shirley. Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer

She wasn’t perfect by any means; she was flawed like all of us.  I could tell you lots of stories of highs and lows.  But the moment that is tugging at my memory today was a car ride she and my mom and I shared, a long ride through the mountains at one of her darkest hours.  Alzheimer’s was slowly consuming Shirley’s brain, and one fateful night CB, her husband of some 68 years, fell.  He hit his head and had to be helicoptered to a hospital 2 hours away.  By the time my mom and I reached her, CB had been flown out and she was sitting with a neighbor obsessing over whether or not she had already fed the cats.  She seemed oblivious to the weight of the situation, which was the one blessing of dementia.  We scooped her up, packed some clothes for an undetermined amount of time and started on our 2-hour journey. 

My mom and I took all our grief and fear and shoved it to the corners of our brain.  We wanted her to stay in her oblivion, it would be much nicer there than in the harsh light of reality.  We started down any number of random conversation topics trying to keep things light, there may have even been a laugh or two in there.  And then with complete lucidity she said with that familiar glowy warmth, “You know CB loves you both so much.  He may not ever recover from this and that will be so sad for all of us, but you are both so loved.  You mean the world to me.”  I was shocked by her clarity, by her calm in the face of what must have been a terrifying situation for her.  But most of all I felt so completely wrapped in tenderness.  

This woman, who saved us many times over, in her darkest hour wanted to make sure that WE knew we were loved.  Her concern in that moment was for OUR well-being and here we thought we were protecting her.  That is love that liberates…

Love Liberates ! Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer

Story Credit And Photo Credit : Barbara Stanifer. 
Barbara is an amazing storyteller and she has written for Chatoveracuppa before. She is very observant of the little things in life and treasures them the most as well, a reflection of which can be seen in all her stories. This is her personal story and pictures. We are so touched to be publishing this today on her behalf.

My grandma’s house

As part of our childhood memories series, is a story by Barbara Stanifer, as she reminiscences about the idyllic summers she spent with her grandmother. “A grandmother is a little bit parent, little bit teacher and a little bit best friend”. Grandmother, grandma, nana, or as I called mine, ‘dida’, by whatever name you call her, is a synonym for love, comfort, peace and the best food ever!
When I sat down to think about my favorite childhood memories, there was no question I would write about the summers I spent with my grandmother in Oklahoma.  To this day at the first sign of warm weather, every fiber of my being wants to make a pilgrimage back to the red clay dirt of that tiny town.  But when I started to write I wasn’t exactly sure WHY those were my best memories, what was it that pulled at my heartstrings even now in middle age? Everything in and around my grandmother’s house was a universe that felt so unique to my ordinary life, the landscape, the smells, the people were all different and I think mostly, it was calm and quiet.  I was free to be completely me.  With a great deal of patience and never a critical word my grandmother taught me things, she seemed to understand me in a way that others didn’t.  I learned to bake bread and do needlepoint and the absolute fine art of “visiting”, something cultivated by her generation or in the Midwest / South I’m not sure, but a skill that I relish when I recognize it in this fast paced, all digital world.
I was four the first time I went to visit my grandmother by myself and I went every summer after that until I was 23.  Nothing ever changed, every couch, chair, wall hanging was a living time capsule for all the years I was there.  For a gal whose family moved often and suffered times of great tumult, there was such unbelievable comfort in that sameness, in the static traditions that encompassed every visit.  We’d sit down first thing with a cold glass of sun tea, ice cubes tinkling softly against the glass, paper towel wrapped around the outside to catch the condensation and look through her box of tintypes.  She’d tell me stories of our ancestors that in retrospect I believe were all untrue!  “We are related to Chief Quanah Parker leader of the Apache tribe…” she’d say.  His picture was in that box and I do have a broad face and large nose but… 
She never denied my request for the first meal to be a BLT and fried okra, with the L, the T and the okra coming straight from her garden, there is something so transcendent about a homegrown tomato.  In the evenings I’d sit outside in a blue canvas chair next to the magnolia tree and contemplate life while my grandmother watered.  Fireflies choreographed their fairy dance to the cicada’s low slung, eerie song and it was pure magic to me – each and every time.  I would fall asleep to the sounds of my grandmother laughing softly at Johnny Carson, dreaming about what adventurous traditions would come the next day, decorating gingerbread men in the heat of summer, going to her beautiful gold domed church dressed in a hat and gloves, playing with her typewriter and my dad’s erector set from when he was young, visiting with Mrs. Babs next door who would always read me a book or tell me a story…  It was a magical place for me not because it was in any way grand, but because it was an amalgam of adventure, traditions and calm.  A perfect blend that matched the odd and quiet rhythm of my soul.

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