Technology Trauma

Photo Tech Trauma

After months of research on new iPhone deals that we never seemed to qualify for, Mr. Wiz*, JC* and I all of a sudden find ourselves in a T Mobile store. Giddy, we opt for the BOGO deal (buy one, get one free) and negotiate between ourselves, splitting the price of the free phone.

We’re feeling pretty savvy, until we begin the data transfer process. For the next two and one-half hours, we are held captive. Under the harsh, bright store lights, we are individually interrogated as to every password we have on record. We laugh later, wondering what type of intense training the staff must endure at T Mobile boot camp. Whether we ask the same question more than once or all at once, our representative is unruffled and never stops smiling.

On a roll, we decide to set up our new printer the next morning. We’re impressed that the printer will be connected to the computer via Bluetooth, rather than needing to be plugged in. Not surprising, we enlist the assistance of the HP customer service line. While Mr. Wiz is on the phone with them, he asks that I get Apple on the phone to respond to a computer question that we are not able to answer.

Once again, we find ourselves in limbo. Jake from HP has asked permission to take over our computer screen and is now speaking directly to Kimberly from Apple. No one seems to want to interface with us and we are left holding the two phones close enough so they can communicate. At one point, I almost think that Jake is going to ask Kimberly out. Before I can say “…Get a room…,” the issues are all rectified, goodbyes are said all-around and Jake wishes us “…An applelicious day…”

Undaunted, we pull ourselves together and venture forward. We still need to shop for protective phone cases; the place where our iPhones will be nestled and kept safe from all harm. I don’t remember doing this much research for Big A’s* crib. After a presentation from a Best Buy salesperson that warranted applause, we all opt for an indestructible screen protector, whose components were originally designed to protect military helicopter blades.

Together, we’ve endured all that technology could throw at us within a 48-hour period and have emerged unscathed. I fall asleep with visions of sugarplum emojis in my head, but my sweet dreams soon turn into nightmares. I see my Fitbit communicate to my refrigerator that we are on lockdown until I begin exercising again. My self-driving car leaves without me. A drone has accidently delivered a gift I was expecting, to my neighbor’s roof and I wonder how long a cheesecake can last without refrigeration.

I wake up in a cold sweat and decide that I need to get my operating system back in order. I thought I didn’t have the bandwith to handle the hard driving world of software, but so far, my technology intelligence, though somewhat artificial, has gotten me through every curve that’s has been thrown at me.

The way I see it, I had two choices: I could have settled into a low gig life with my out of date iPhone 4 or I could release my inner geek, grab my anxiety by the horns and ride into cyberspace on an iCloud filled with endless app possibilities.

 

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

 

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Pasteles: Unwrapping a Family Tradition

Photo Pasteles

Pasteles and I go way back. They’ve been a part of my life every Christmas that I can remember. Why then, did I have such a complicated relationship with this family ritual?

A traditional Latin American holiday food, a pastele is similar to a tamale. The dough (masa) is usually made with plantains (cooking bananas) and root vegetables (yautia or yucca) and the filling is a mixture of diced pork and spices in a tomato base. Completion is done in assembly line fashion, placing some dough in the center of a piece of parchment paper (sometimes a banana leaf is placed down first). Then, the pork mixture is added on top and the paper is folded, wrapped and tied with string, ready to be boiled and enjoyed.

As a child, I always looked forward to the arrival of the strange looking vegetables. They would not win any veggie beauty contests, all gnarly and odd shaped with what looked like long hairs sticking out of them, and I’d delight in rolling them around the kitchen table and watching my younger brother and sisters scream when they’d come their way. The kitchen was always a buzz, as my Latin grandparents methodically worked all day long, leading the group. With no Cuisinart, a manual grinder that attached to the end of the table was used to grind the meat and the hard vegetables had to be grated manually. My siblings and I were at the end of the assembly line and allowed to place one green olive on each pastele before it was wrapped.

During my teen years, the whole concept of pasteles embarrassed me (but, then again, I was at the stage when anything family related was embarrassing to me). Once, when a friend payed an unexpected visit, I worried that she would think us Gypsies. I once tried unsuccessfully to get out of working the assembly line by sarcastically mentioning that there were child labor laws in New York state, until my grandmother gave me the evil eye (her dark piercing eyes sparkled when she was happy and burned a hole into you when she was not). I quietly went back to work and stopped looking at the clock.

As time went on, my parents took over and the whole process was turned into a party. Family and friends were invited over in the afternoon and guests were greeted with an apron and chef’s hat, then asked to wash their hands and report to the kitchen for their assignments. Latin music played in the background, as wine and hors d’ oeuvres were served to the assembly line workers. The big laugh every year was who would be demoted to string cutting.

As a young woman, I knew that the day would come when I would have to introduce any serious marriage candidate to this atypical way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Not surprisingly, Mr. Wiz* was an eager participant. Even with strong Midwestern roots, he took to the process so naturally that my dad announced happily to all that he must be the lost child of the Count of Monte Cristo, left on a doorstep in Michigan. The crowd all agreed with a rousing toast and I wondered if there was still a New Years’ Eve date in my future.

Things went from bad to worse when, at the end of the afternoon, Mr. Wiz noticed a black stain on the palms of both hands, which soap and water was not washing off. This was due to his willingness to take on the difficult assignment of peeling the hard skin of the plantains off with a knife and then pulling them off with his hands. The crowd tried to alleviate his concern by reminding him that the discoloration would eventually wear off. The problem was that he was flying out in the morning to give a big sales presentation.

Before dinner was served, my grandmother quietly took Mr. Wiz into the bathroom and closed the door. Afraid to interfere, I could see my future changing before my eyes (not for the good). A hush came over the crowd as they exited the bathroom together with Mr. Wiz looking a bit wide-eyed. As he held up his now clean hands, the crowd cheered and more wine was served. No one ever spoke as to what may have occurred, but it was rumored that she scrubbed his hands with a solution of lemon juice and baking soda while whispering a Spanish prayer that would guarantee that he would not leave me for a gringo.

Now, my siblings and I are scattered all over the U.S., but the tradition continues. Here in Texas, our assembly line included a new friend. Ohio reported in that their veggies were already prepared and the process would be starting at 5:32 p.m. that evening; finish time was anyone’s guess. New York decided that they would await their March visit to Texas and partake then.

A word of caution is always shared with a reminder of the dangers of letting the pasteles out of your site, as a family story is retold each year. JC* was dropping off pasteles to a friend. When no one answered the door, she left them outside in a small shopping bag with a red bow on it. She was surprised to find out later that her friend had never received the package, but the friend deduced exactly what had happened. The houses in the development all looked the same and JC had left the package at the wrong door. The residents arrived home and alarmed to find a package with such strange contents, called the police. The bomb squad arrived, inspected the odd khaki colored squares wrapped in paper and declared it a non emergency. The friend received another pastele shipment under the cloak of darkness and a lesson was learned, never to be forgotten.

My tumultuous relationship with pasteles has now matured into a wonderful Christmas tradition that I hold so dear. I dream of my whole family getting together and recreating that assembly line, while the teenagers feign annoyance, the children add the olives and we all toast each other, as the music plays in the background (always just a bit too loud).

 

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

 

Keeping the Pro in Procrastination

Photo Procrastination

Usually, nothing changes my morning routine; I jump into my exercise clothes, enjoy a big cup of tea and after some quiet, reflective time, I hit the gym.

On this particular day, I could not get going. Out of the blue, I had an overwhelming urge to check the spice cabinet and make sure that all the spice bottles were still alphabetized properly. When was the last time it was cleaned out? Probably best to take everything out of the cabinet and clean the shelves.

Shoot, I was still in my exercise clothes. Quite a bit more time passed and I now had convinced myself that checking the expiration dates of all of the items in the pantry was very important to the health and welfare of my family. After sharpening all the pencils in the house, checking the weekly grocery sale circular and rearranging the sofa pillows, I finally pushed myself toward the door and started my day.

When it comes down to it, is there really anything wrong with procrastination? As long as the action of postponing or delaying something ultimately results in the task being completed, does it matter if it gets done now or last minute? I am more comfortable guided by to-do lists and immediate action, but some achieve peak efficiency, energy and focus, by using time pressure as a stimulus. It just comes down to a choice of what style we will use in order to get things done.

According to Psychology Today “…Diverting attention away from a task while holding information in working memory allows you to passively work on it until you are motivated by emotions or activated by a deadline to actively engage in the project. An internal solving process that is gradual, continuous and unconscious occurs during this incubation period…”

As a teenager, my job was to clean the bathrooms on Saturdays. I sometimes did so at 10 p.m., rationalizing that as long as it was done by midnight, I was accomplishing the task. I see this as a good example of the incubation process in action, rather than the suggestion of laziness made by my parents.

Come to think of it, if wives and mothers everywhere were made aware of the pros of procrastination, we would have less worldwide consumption of Advil and Tylenol and a more tolerant view of the lag time between the prompting and the actual completion of homework and odd jobs around the house.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cosmic Kiss: A Spiritual Signal

Post Cosmic Kiss

I had no plans to swim that morning, but I awoke to such a bright, beautiful day that I could not imagine exercising inside. After a quick cup of tea, I drove over to an outdoor pool I had recently found. After enjoying the solitude of swimming laps in my own lane, I got out to dry off. Sitting on the other side of the bench where I had left my towel was an attractive woman in her fifties, also drying off.

We started to chat and during our conversation, I mentioned that we were recent transplants from Chicago and still getting our bearings as to where to permanently settle down in Austin. She then mentioned that both she and her mom were planning to put their homes on the market. Would I be interested in some information? The hair on my arms stood straight up as we exchanged emails.

Before getting in the car, I decided to take a walk past a house that I had seen for sale last week that had intrigued me. I slowed down as I passed it, then walked to the corner and turned around. This time as I strolled by, I noticed a car parked in front and the gate open. I stood there for a minute surprised. Then, the real estate agent, whose photo was on the for-sale sign, opened the front door and with a big grin said hello and asked if I like to tour the house.

As JC* passed by the floral department at Trader Joe’s, she stopped to admire the lovely assortment. She bent down to take a sniff and thought about the men in her life that had always brought her flowers. They were all deceased now. She decided that she would just have to buy a bouquet for herself. When she took them to the register, the young man smiled at her and said …”It looks like one of the gladiolus bulbs is missing, so I am not going to charge you for these…”

It’s wonderful when the inexplicable surprises you. I call it a cosmic kiss. To me, it’s a sign from above that lets you know that someone is watching out for you, routing for you and that your thoughts and dreams aren’t in vain. As far as the kiss part, it’s not as dramatic as a romantic kiss or as impersonal as a peck on the cheek. I named it after one of those special kisses that a loved one gives you on your forehead that makes you smile and assures you that everything will be all right.

A cosmic kiss may not always be exactly in tune with your immediate goals or desires. It knows when to swoop down and disarm you just enough to get your attention. It can jolt, cajole, coax, bewilder and delight you. Its spiritual energy derives from a place personal to each of us; only we can decide where it flows from.

As it turned out, we were not really ready to seriously begin our house search as yet and the three homes mentioned above were not right for us anyway. Then, why did it all happen? Lately, I have been a bit too focused on where we would wind up and these little coincidences reminded me that there are lots of opportunities out there. This helped me to settle back down and keep to our original plan.

I’m always in search of the next cosmic kiss. How about you? Remember, if you walk through life with your head down, how will that special smooch know where to find you?

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

 

 

 

 

I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I’m On My Way

Photo Sense of Direction

OK, I admit it; I have no sense of direction. While others can logically navigate to and from their destinations, I am always left in a heightened state of panic suffering from topographical disorientation.

I guess that I was just born this way. Sure, from the outside I may seem confident. But, on the inside, some of my brain cells within their networks are miss-firing and not sending out the proper signals that help perform simple wayfinding skills. So, while you are confidently enjoying a walk or drive around new environs, I am either full of anxiety, trying to remember from which direction I came or making sure that I keep close to you, so that I am not lost forever.

I was the baby crawling in the opposite direction from the others at playtime and the reason that my grammar school made children on field trips wear bright red t-shirts. On the first day of junior high, I was sitting in the nurse’s office by fourth period, stressed to the point of stomach pains as I tried to maneuver to classes on three levels before the late bell rang.

To assist me in my daily commute to college in New York City, my Spanish grandmother tried teaching me about the subway system. Legend has it that, as a spirited young girl, she entered down the steps into the dark cavern of the city’s underbelly one day. After getting lost for six hours and without the command of the English language, she emerged unscathed with a working knowledge of the rapid transit system that would impress any conductor. Unfortunately, the knowledge she tried to impart on me was lost. Resigned to the fact that I never would learn the stops on the GG or the EE trains, she took to making the sign of the cross whenever I’d venture out alone.

When your 4-year old son tells you that you made the wrong turn to his play date’s home, it’s time for you to get your bearings. It would be 12 years before he would get his driver’s license, so I had no choice but to begin to keep a journal with directions written out to every location I could think of.

You would think that technology would have solved most of my problems. When Lola and I venture out alone, she does quite a good job of directing me. I have such an intimate relationship with our car’s navigation system that I’ve named her Lola. Together we head out on the open road, with her very authoritative voice instructing me (I swear that I can sense her annoyance when I miss a turn and she has to recalibrate the directions). It’s when Lola doesn’t speak to me that I get concerned. Though I should know by now that until there is a change in the route, she will not communicate, the silence always worries me. And, as I ask out loud why she is quiet and question whether I am still going the right way, I always feel that she is feeling quite smug, knowing just how much I depend on her.

I do have one thing in my favor. Luckily, my very underdeveloped sense of direction which relates to transporting me from place to place has not affected the other type of sense of direction that helps me to have a clear idea of what I want to achieve. Not wanting to always be the passenger and never the driver, I have to remember to just point myself in the right direction and follow my path.

 

 

 

Living in The Other White House and Other Childhood Memories

Photo White House

Until the age of 10, I was very proud to say that my first few years were spent living in the White House. I then realized that it was the other white house; a white brick apartment building in Washington Heights, a section of New York City. My parents and grandparents would reminisce about that time with such reverence. They both lived in the same building and now that I think back, the stories of their escapades were less presidential and more Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel.

Once when I was a baby, my dad was playing with me and pressed a toy attached to a suction cup onto his forehead, much to my delight, only to find that it would not come off. The more he pulled, the tighter the hold.

Of course, the whole family had to accompany him to the hospital emergency department. My grandmother thought quickly and outfitted her son with a turban-style headdress. As is typical of New Yorkers, no one gave a second glance to the protruding appendage or the stifled giggles of the accompanying group during the entire subway ride.

As not to alter his dapper image, my dad went to work each day feigning surprise when any of his customers commented about the perfect, brightly colored circle in the middle of his forehead, which changed to every color of the rainbow before finally departing for good.

My grandmother had perfected the return of merchandise to an art form. Send her to any type of store with any kind of merchandise and she would exit victorious. Many rumors existed as to just what went on between this diminutive woman with a Spanish accent and the sales staff, but since she worked alone, it was only speculation. Many surmised that it had to do with her dark piercing eyes, which sparkled when she was happy and burned a hole into you when she was not.

There is still talk of her many New York City reimbursement exploits: my sister’s dead frog to a pet shop, her friend’s used lipstick to Henri Bendel, my aunt’s ripped, 2- year old dress to Lord & Taylor, another friend’s dining room table missing a leg to Macy’s, but the most famous was the bedding story.

Never mind that the sheets were not quite new, they were not her accepted level of quality, so back they went. When the patronizing saleslady at B. Altman & Company on Fifth Avenue did not understand her, my grandmother responded, in a rather loud voice, her version of the word “sheets” which came out “s***s”. This caused a stir at the chic establishment, causing both security and the store manager to intervene. The rest is history, as not only apologies ensued, but two sets of more expensive sheets, a store credit for the ones returned and lunch at their famous Charleston Garden Restaurant. My grandmother had her heart set on dining on the second-floor terrace. How the hostess patiently explained to her that it was really just trompe l’ oeil is another story in itself.

Life isn’t always an episode of “I Love Lucy”, but hiding in between all the seriousness, might just be some wonderful memories that will tickle you every time you let them. Hopefully inheriting some of that lighthearted spirit, my funny bone and I have made a pact to continue to remember not to forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Too Square to Think Outside the Box

Photo Think Outside Box

 

It was when I complimented JC* on her dress and she said she was wearing it backward that I was both aghast and quite sure that I had not inherited that playful gene that helps you look at the world just a bit differently.

Thinking outside the box is defined as “a thinking process which implements an unusual approach to the logical thinking structure and aims to approach it from a creative process.” It’s been the catchphrase behind many an advertising slogan, challenging us to think beyond the obvious.

Sure, there was the time that I accidently wore two different earrings to work, but I don’t think that counts. My co-workers did seem to be mesmerized with my ears, could not focus on our weekly meeting, and my boss asked if I was OK or if I needed to leave work early.

Wait a minute, wasn’t it me that made hot dog shaped hamburgers and served them in hot dog buns? Don’t I commemorate special events with a shaving cream message on the shower wall?

All well and good, but after some analysis, it seems that, though I may have been taking steps toward thinking outside the box, I was doing so inside the secure environs of my own home. To be truly avant-garde, you are not afraid to go out into the world and be who you are. Rats, so those don’t count either.

Being married to Mr. Wiz* for thirty-three years, you’d think that some of his inventive and imaginative ways would have rubbed off on me by now. Proposing that we buy a derelict car dealership in the tourist town of Mountain View, Arkansas and turn it into a store or that we walk 500 miles through Spain on The Camino, literally left me speechless (not easy to do). Partners that we are, we negotiated, threw in a couple of Excel spreadsheets for my well-being and the rest is history.

Big A* just might have inherited the best of the both of us. Even though he wanted no part of backward Day in pre-school (even reversing the baseball cap on his head made no sense to him), he would come home from visiting his New York grandparents every summer, excited to share tales of having had pizza for breakfast, a backward dinner (dessert first) and being asked if he would rather go to an amusement park or see Tito Puente perform live at Carnegie Hall (he chose the latter).

There always seemed to be electricity in the air when we’d spend time with our dear friends, Pat and Bruce; you never knew what to expect next. An older couple, who took us under their wing when we started our sales representative business in New York years ago, their wealthy upbringing afforded them the luxury of an unconventional lifestyle. For their 45th wedding anniversary, Bruce, a self-professed pack rat, had a dumpster delivered to their home with much fanfare and the promise to fill it up. Pat said it was the most loving gift she had ever received.

Sure, I’m disappointed that I’m just not built to be such a carefree soul, but maybe in the big cardboard compartments of life, there needs to be a balance between those that take risks and get the papercuts and those that are always prepared with the bandages.

I’ll just have to be content with my analytical self and accept that there’s always the chance that I will be inspired to release some of my inner eccentricities by watching others make the world a bit quirkier, one kooky notion at a time.

 

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