Ask…and You Just May Receive

Photo Never Hurts to AskI I I can hear it now; the collective gasp from the Millennial population that live in JC’s* swanky building if they ever found out that JC has not had a rent increase since she moved there in 2016!

How, why, you ask? It involves just a five-word mantra that anyone can adopt:” It never hurts to ask!” Sure, you’re putting yourself “out there,” each time you take a chance and ask for something, but think of it as gambling with nothing to lose.

First, let’s concentrate on your demeanor and take a lesson from JC’s playbook. You need to dress for success. Looking your best will boost your confidence. Take a minute to take a deep breath and rationalize that your request is a fair and equitable one.

With a smile on your face and with your head tilted ever so slightly to either the left or right, look directly into the person’s eyes and ask your question. Then- and this is most important- do not say a word. At this point, silence is golden and is a game changer. It will seem like hours and you will want to blurt out a long explanation, but that minute or two will usually turn the awkward silence into a win for you.

This can also be adapted to phone conversations. Dress for success is still applicable. PJs just don’t give you the same performance level. Try standing up and smiling when you begin to speak and remember to stop talking.

Mr. Wiz,*a shining example of poise and self-assurance, has been preaching this refrain to me since we met. I’ve watched aghast as he negotiated a discount in a department store on a high-ticket item (I didn’t know that was even possible) and with a brief explanation, offered, what I thought to be, an insultingly low bid on our dream condo which was immediately accepted.

Shy at first, I began my training slowly:

  • In the grocery store, I asked if I could switch to an available brand of soup and still receive the sale price; it worked!

  • Now with a spring in my step, I walked into Dunkin’ Donuts and said since the gift card I had purchased for my boss had not been validated, I embarrassingly had to retrieve it and return to the store. The least they could do was treat Mr. Wiz and me to a complimentary breakfast. Five minutes later, we were enjoying their ham, egg and cheese sandwiches.

  • It was time to conquer the ultimate challenge. After some yoga deep breathing, I gathered myself together and called my credit card company. The concierge that had booked our high-speed train tickets had neglected to email the tickets to me at our hotel. We had no choice, but to go to the train station and pick them up, resulting in us missing out on a whole day of sightseeing. I felt we were justified to receive the expensive European train tickets at no charge; they agreed.

Practice makes perfect. With a little fortitude and a lot of moxie, you can change the course of your life, one simple question at a time. It never hurts to ask!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Ready, Set, Unmask?!

Image

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to reveal myself. Being in disguise all this time, I blamed my late bloomer tendencies for not being one of the first to unveil, much like a bear that cautiously steps out of hibernation into his new surroundings.

But, I can honestly say all it took was a couple of hugs, dinner at a favorite restaurant and the opportunity to dance to win me back and I began to wonder if the past year and a half was all a dream. Once again, I could smile at strangers and watch their countenance change before my eyes. No longer would I have to suppress my hugging tendencies. I could shake your hand and not strain to hear your voice from six feet away. 

Ever the enthusiast of the glass being half full, I began to wonder if my mask was revealing as much as it had concealed. It gave me a newfound respect for my sister and her profession as a nurse. Due to a limited supply of N95 masks, she initially had to travel forty minutes each way to have hers sterilized each morning. With so many unanswered questions about COVID, she undressed at the door each evening and left her work laptop outside. Meditation helped her get through those perilous days and has since become a part of her life.

JC* loved living with millennials in her chic downtown apartment, until they all started working from home, never to be seen in the daylight again. This was not a concept that she was familiar with and it took some explaining. We joked and told her had she been employed March 14, 2020, one day after the city shutdown, she probably would have been fired. Through it all, she remained her usual fun loving, upbeat self and I was so proud of her. Alone during quarantining, she worked on her paint by number art, knitted hats for charity, called friends, researched vacation locations and filled up her bucket list.

I perused my phone’s contact list, stopped to think about each person, and decided to reach out to them. Keeping in touch with my sister weekly on Zoom, the goal to make her laugh, brought her, JC and me even closer. FaceTime with family replaced visits and was never taken for granted. Considering time to be a gift, I had no excuse but to use it wisely. 

Though I’m not exactly sure where we are now (mask or unmask?), I’ll make an effort to try not to take anything for granted again. If I do, I’ll take out my collection of face masks and marvel at how such a small piece of cloth could hide me behind it and change me so significantly. 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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A Pickle, a Ball and Me

Photo Pickleball

Though diminutive in size, this one inch pickle pin is the pride and joy of our neighborhood’s Pickleball community.

“I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.” That whiny lament has been heard by parents everywhere, but back in the summer of 1985, little did three dads know that inventing a game in order to entertain their bored children would create a world phenomenon known as Pickleball.

A cross between badminton, table tennis and tennis, this is how Pickleball originated. The smaller court meant less running and helped to make the game so popular. With 37 countries now members of the International Pickleball Federation, it is the fastest growing sport in the U.S. with over 2 million players.

Was the game named after one of the family dogs? Did one of the wives liken the combination of different sports to the pickle boat in crew where oarsman are chosen from leftovers of other boats? Though accounts of how the name originated differ, it is agreed no actual pickles are involved in the playing of the game.

It’s safe to say there will be no golden pickles in my future. According to the official Pickleball dictionary, this is when you win a game on your first serve, never giving the opposing team the chance to serve.

Unfortunately, my clumsiness prevents me from participating. I don’t say that to hear I should just give it a try or with practice, I could become a good player. I know my limitations and awkwardness is just something that has always accompanied me through life.

Years ago when I first met my new boss, who happened to be Mr. Wiz,* I tripped over my own feet as we strolled down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. As I lay there on my stomach in my new suit and matching heels, a crowd formed around us as he helped me up. I tried to brush it off as I brushed myself off, quickly cleaning the blood off my knees with my saliva and trying to turn the rips in my hose off to one side.

The next day, the rain did not deter us and I was feeling great in my new matching raincoat and hat. I was impressed Mr. Wiz wanted to stop in at one of those ritzy Madison Avenue jewelry stores where ringing the bell lets you in and I felt so elegant as we entered. Then, when I looked down, the water that had gathered on the brim of my hat hit the jewelry case and all the security alarms in the store started to screech. As we were quickly escorted back out to the street by the security guards, all I could think to say was “Lunch?”

Preparing to regally walk down the staircase from my bedroom for a first date and then falling, tripping in my garden and on to all the plants; these are just reminders I’m right when I say I have two left feet.

Luckily, it’s all worked out for me. I focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t and when I ever do misstep, I know Mr. Wiz is always there with a loving smile and a strong arm to lift me up and remind me it’s not about the trip, but about the journey.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Moving to the Rhythm of Nature’s Song

Photo Rhythm Natures Song

“Are you OK?” My neighbor noticed me lying on my stomach with my hands under my chin, staring at a plant in my garden that looked as though it had seen better days. After I answered all was well, I realized I might have been in the same position longer than I had thought.

“Black thumb” gardener that I am, (the result of city condo living for 25 years), I was disturbed to see some of our plants were not responding to the Texas sun after our major frost. I thought I noticed something green measuring half the size of my pinkie nail on one of the crispy dark gray branches that was once a beautiful full bush with bright orange flowers. Having originally thought it a weed, I was delighted to see it was the tiniest of buds, after all!

If only we all could be as resilient as plants. What Mother Nature teaches her flock is how to come back even stronger. How must a small seed feel, knowing it must prepare itself to push up through all the black, dense dirt in order to thrive? Or, how about a tree whose branches are so strongly bent? Unaware of its peculiarity and against all odds, it just keeps growing.

Watching some ants march past me, I was fascinated at their teamwork and organization. Persistence counteracts any obstacles and goals are met. Instead of those fancy employee team building exercises, companies should bring their staff outside, lie on their stomachs next to me, and document their tiny compadres’ remarkable achievements.

Deep in thought, I realize I am being serenaded, once again, by Enrico Caruso. Having named this tiny bird with the melodious voice after one of the most famous Italian opera singers, I look forward to his daily recitals. He stands majestically on my neighbor’s roof and sings his heart out, never letting his size impact his stature.

Brushing myself off, I stand up ready to continue the day with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. When I take the time to pay attention to what nature has to reveal, she never ceases to amaze me.

Come forth into the light of things,
let nature be your teacher

William Wordsworth

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Always the Student

Photo Always the Student

“It does not take much strength to do things, 
but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what do to”
Elbert Hubbard

First, there’s the line drawn down the center of a piece of paper, noting pros and cons. Then, there’s some research to be done on the subject. Next, I like to get the opinion of others. Young, old, eccentric, intellectual; their views all get mixed into that big black cauldron in my head. If I’m very quiet, I can begin to stir it up and sense what suggestions will start to rise to the top. Asking for advice and being open to criticism and suggestion takes practice. 

Really listening without speaking is even more difficult. Lately, I’ve decided to take advantage of the forced tranquil lifestyle that’s been dealt us all and concentrate on what I can learn from everyone that I’ve come into contact with. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • How an older gentleman reminded me that in the sink or swim restaurant business, his little catfish restaurant (now 42 years old) has endured, due in part to his motto “We do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
  • How 12 women exchanged their weekly lunch outings for brown bags and started using that money to support local charities in my town. Now 250 strong, this powerhouse of a women’s club has donated their time, talents and over $85,000 just last year. 
  • How one young man’s homage to his favorite uncle, who died too soon, sweetly lived on when he sported a bolo tie on a dating app photo and it caught the eye of a lovely young woman whose grandfather was also a fan of the style. To his surprise, on their first date, she sported her favorite bolo tie and the rest was history.
  • How the tides can change when a young man with a simple love of the ocean became an oceanographer and at 84 years of age wrote his first book, enlightening readers as to how tides and currents actually changed the course of history during historic wars. His first book has since been awarded the gold medal by the Military Writers Society of America.
  • How living in a home that is open to the public 365 days a year is not as glamourous as you might think. “Keep your memory short and your skin thick;” this shared from a Duchess who runs a 300-year old castle on 160 acres in England. On her first day, the then young bride, from a farm village who married into aristocracy, was “welcomed” by the staff when she heard them whispering “Have we broken her yet?” 
  • And, last but never least, how JC*, who never ceases to amaze me with her ageless sense of wonder, spunk and positive attitude, has powered through this last year. Whether she’s painting, knitting hats for charity (she was grateful to have one to wear when her power went out recently), playing Rummikub against herself for practice, reading or researching where our first post- COVID family vacation should be, she is the inspiration that reminds me how important it is to have a teachable spirit. 

If, at times, I can scramble out of my comfort zone, with humbleness and modesty at my side, helping me along the way; if I can walk with my arms open and let them be the antennae that captures all of life’s prospects, then I’ll be content to always be the student. 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Photo Masked Man

The next time you are fussing about wearing a mask, think about Clayton Moore. Starting in 1949 and, until his death in 1999, he wore a mask (over his eyes, not his mouth and nose, but still?!) while portraying the character The Lone Ranger. 

Initially starring on the television series of the same name, he later became the Lone Ranger full time, making nationwide public appearances. Ironically, wearing that mask to conceal his identity made him one of the most recognizable characters in the world. 

As the fictional story goes, he was the sole survivor of an ambush on Texas Rangers. Nursed back to health by Tonto, an Indian who became his loyal companion, they roamed the Old West together, aiding those in need and fighting outlaws while in search of Butch Cavendish, known to be the leader of the ambush. 

Why did The Lone Ranger call his Indian companion “Tonto,” Spanish for “fool?” In return, did Tonto call him “Que no sabe,” Spanish for “(the one) who doesn’t know” or “Kemosabe,” thought to mean “friend” in Tonto’s native Potawatomi language? And speaking of the Potawatomi, how did they manage a $390 million expansion project in order to build a successful casino and hotel in what was once a desolate area in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? This is what you think about when you have a little more time on your hands. 

Come to think of it, I may have more in common with Clayton than I thought. We both understand how hiding your identity behind a mask can make you feel more introspective.

As The Lone Ranger spoke those famous words “Hi ho, Silver, away!” he’d urge his horse to rear up on his hind legs and dramatically descend into a fast gallop, not dwelling on the past, but heading to new adventures. I think I’ll keep that in my saddle bag the next time I need a reminder to unmask my fun loving side. 

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Curls in Crisis

Photo Curls Crisis

They were cut down into submission for years, never expecting that their time would come again. But, these asymmetrical follicles that tend to make hair curl as it grows, patiently awaited their comeback and what a comeback it was!

This year, a lack of a haircut on my regularly scheduled date continued on for months. Neither hairbrush nor comb could subdue the rampage of ringlets that little by little began to appear all over my head. I likened their appearance on the scene to a field of battle, as they helped each other to unfurl and together rose to independence. 

A blow dryer was no match for these stubborn spirals and soon I realized that letting them dry naturally was the only option. Problem was, there was strength in numbers and I had absolutely no control as to what direction or how they would style themselves each day. 

Thinking myself very clever, I decided that rather than fight them, I would give in and let them part and twist as they wished. But, just as I was getting used to that look, without any warning they rebelled and chose another direction in which to coil. One day, I actually thought I heard them giggling. 

Mornings have been especially difficult. Opening my eyes and seeing Mr. Wiz* smile and say good morning, I contentedly begin my day until I catch my reflection in a mirror and gasp. I look like the child of Margaret Thatcher (as she appeared in the latest episode of “The Crown”) and Don King, the boxing promoter known for his “tall hair.” Each day, I wonder how Mr. Wiz cannot see this; is it true love or does he not have his glasses on yet?

Out of desperation, I subtly introduced my unruly tresses to the bandanna. Folding and twisting it first, I slowly and gently maneuvered it behind my ears and then pushed the front of my hair back and quickly tied it. Surprisingly, they snuggled in and around it. All was well until I took it off and they reverted into rebellion again. 

To the outside, straight haired world, curly hair signifies freedom, strength and independence. I have come to the conclusion that my hair and I just don’t agree. I feel as if I have the wrong head on my body. If you’ve ever switched heads on your dolls, you know just what I mean (though switching Ken and Barbie’s heads did totally confuse my then 5-year old brother for a year or so). 

While my head says I am methodical, my hair says I’m wild and free. As much as I’d like to run in slow motion, shaking my head as my hair defiantly struts its stuff, the real me remembers back to the day when I’d blow dry my short hair quickly in the morning and it would obediently remain in place all day. 

Don’t tell them, but I am considering cutting off my curls. I might keep some in a zip-close bag where, much like a wild animal in a cage, they will behave and can be admired from afar. Who knows? Maybe on special occasions I might glue a couple of curls to my forehead and just for the day, pretend I am actually the girl with the devil may care hair.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

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The Hug: Embracing the Return of the Forbidden

Photo Hug

You other huggers out there know just what I mean. Before COVID, not a day would go by when I wasn’t hugging someone, somewhere. Friend, family, total stranger; it was my instinctive way of communicating. I don’t know about you, but I’m having difficulty trading that in for an elbow bump. 

According to Wikipedia, the verb hug was first used in the 1560s and has two origins. Either it was based on the Norse word hugga, meaning to comfort or the German word hegen(to cherish). Either way, the word/action soon came to be the universal sign of comfort and an acceptable norm in public. 

Whatever type of hug (bear, romantic, polite, group, intimate, back, etc.): what defines a good hug? 
– Open your arms
– Hug like you mean it
– Lean and breathe into it
– Don’t squeeze too hard

Hugs have long been undervalued for their free, quick and easy way to share any emotion. What better way to communicate a greeting, goodbye, congratulations, affection, to console or to unite a team or performers?

The act of hugging releases oxytocin (aka “the cuddle hormone”) in the brain. A 20 second hug is known to slow down our heart rate, improve our mood, alleviate stress and lower our blood pressure. Someone touching you activates the pressure receptors that send signals to the brain associated with pleasure and reward, similar to chocolate. 

All is not lost without that sweet treat. The key is to provide ourselves some comfort. You can hug yourself, squeeze a pillow or cuddle with your pets. Petless? I’ve read that cow hugging has actually become a new trend. As other animals follow in this movement, just a reminder that a bear hug has to do with the type of hug and is not in any way related to the animal itself. 

If you are fortunate enough to not be living alone right now, take full advantage and hug the heck out of your roommates. Take care to exercise some restraint, lest you care to compete with a Canadian couple who in 2010 entered The Guinness Book of Records for the longest hug recorded: 24 hours and 33 minutes. 

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Sun City: A View Through Rose Colored Sunglasses

Photo WCS Rocks N83 Joy

It’s Disneyland without the lines! It’s a cruise without the ocean! It’s spring break with better booze! And, up until its total shutdown in March due to COVID, this 55+ community was in full swing, with residents’ social schedules overflowing with events.

The 60 charter clubs, with yearly dues of only $10, enticed you to get out of your comfort zone and try something new. The golf courses, swimming pools, outdoor sports, hiking trails and exercise classes spurred you to get up and get moving. It was hard to decide what shows, concerts and movies to attend. The neighborhood representatives that lead each community worked with their various committees and planned activities.

Sun City is not for everyone. While nonconformists would deplore the many rules, procedures, guidelines and policies that need to be followed, sticklers welcome the regulations that keep everything running like a well-oiled machine and looking just right.

Leave it to some energetic, creative neighbors of mine to not let anything get in their way of camaraderie. In the spirit of friendship, they maneuvered around set protocols to come up with some resourceful ideas:

Takeout Thursdays
In an attempt to support neighborhood restaurants and have a little something to look forward to, our neighborhood representative introduced Takeout Thursdays. Early each week, a restaurant was chosen and its menu was emailed to all. Orders were sent in and the restaurants were all too happy to deliver directly to anywhere from 60-75 doors.

Chalk Talk
When her students were bored at recess, a retired teacher remembered their delight when she first said “Let’s talk with chalk!” She wanted to rekindle that feeling with her neighbors.

Excited, she emailed her neighbors an invitation to come to her driveway and “chalk talk.” Before she knew it, pictures, inspirational messages and poems adorned her driveway. In between the creative process, there was even some social distance visiting.

The Friendship Bench
Every time she would walk past her neighbor’s front yard, it would remind her of a similar setting in her previous home, which had the added feature of a lovely old bench.

Knowing her neighbor was a woodworker, she asked if he could build her a bench. What she didn’t know was that he had put himself through college as a boat carpenter, so was not intimidated in the least to take on the project with only a photo to work with. Since she was only used to painting very small images, it took a couple of weeks for her to teach herself to paint the larger images of poppies on the bench.

This labor of love was finally completed and positioned in its place of honor, under the shade of a beloved tree. They then emailed the entire neighborhood and extended an invitation from them both, to come by and sit a spell on the friendship bench, whenever the spirit moved them.

Painted Rocks
At the onset of COVID, an artistic neighbor began the undertaking of anonymously leaving a painted rock outside every home in our neighborhood. Little did she know that her creations would take on a life of their own.

The bereaved woman that stepped out of her home and found a rock that said “Faith.” An ill neighbor that looked down and saw the rock with “Hope” written on it. It was awe inspiring how these rocks, with just the right comforting sentiments on them, seemed to find the spot where they belonged.

In the meantime, almost overnight, painted rocks started to appear on our community’s walking path. No one seemed to know who was creating them (our neighbor says it wasn’t her), which made the upbeat, faith based and funny messages all the more enchanting. You couldn’t help but smile and sometimes, laugh out loud as you passed them.

Who would ever think that something as simple as rocks could soften the sharp edges of our current isolation? Or, that even though the rain had washed away all those good chalk talk wishes, it didn’t dampen the spirits of this close-knit community.

Photo WCS Rocks Path 1

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The Three Amigos Brighten My Mornings

Photo Three Amigos Blog Brt

The Three Amigos ham it up for passersby

“Top of the morning!” You can’t help but smile when the three older gentlemen, who grace our community’s walking path with their presence every day, welcome fellow walkers with their signature greeting. Allen, Dennis and Bobby met six years ago on the path and have been walking together ever since. 

The path mirrors the set of “Cheers,” the television show where “everybody knows your name” as passersby are welcomed on a first name basis. Then, it quickly morphs into a segment of “Hee Haw,” the television show known for its country music interspersed with one-liners, as jokes bounce back and forth between the three friends. 

“We’re the three wise men,” laughs Dennis. “More like the three stooges,” quips Bobby. “Hey, what has hairy legs and likes aunts?” asks Allen to anyone that might be listening, “Uncles!” “You’re looking particularly fluffy today,” Bobby jibes Allen as they saunter on. 

Allen, the jokester of the group, who says he’s built for comfort, not speed, always has his dog, Hammer, at his side. “I’m going to change Hammer’s name to Five Miles, so when I’m asked what I did today I can say I walked Five Miles.” Allen, who was born in the area, remembers riding his horse through what is now the path as a child. 

Tall and lanky, Dennis is the polite sidekick. Golf lured him to the area, as he and his wife were traveling through. He’s been trying to teach Allen how to play, but says “So far, it’s down spiraled from a novel to a short story.”

Then, there’s Bobby. The senior member of the group, he’s always nattily attired in dress pants, a long-sleeved shirt and cowboy hat with never a drip of sweat to be seen. Some say he’s heading right to a country western dance after his daily walk. He’s been unanimously voted best dressed on the walking path and holds his own, trading wisecracks with his pals. 

As they travel on, you can hear the muffled sounds of chatter and laughter and sense that the more they tease each other, the fonder the three seem to grow of each other. “It’s amazing how something as simple as a walk could develop into such friendships,” notes Allen, “The three of us have been privileged to meet so many wonderful people each day.” 

Likewise, their fellow walkers have been thoroughly entertained, leaving the path with a smile and a spring in their step at a time when they need it the most. Personally, all I know is that when my boys tell me “You’re looking as cute as a little mud turtle today”, I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a great day.