Auditory Illusions     

Photo Auditory Illusion

She was a well-dressed, middle age woman and when she smiled and leaned in to speak to me, I was taken off guard. “…I like your boobs…” she said. Never wanting to appear impolite, I remember responding with a very faint “…Thank you…” It wasn’t until the conversation continued that I realized she had actually said “…I like your boots…”

This has happened to me more than once. In grammar school, I proudly sang the national anthem at the top of my lungs each morning. I was absolutely crushed to hear that Josė, who I had imagined to be a new U.S. citizen, was really not being sung to at all. I still like my words better: “…Josė, does that star-spangled banner yet wave…”

While scientists label it an auditory illusion (a sound trick similar to an optical illusion), I’m pretty sure it’s just the comedic side of my brain having a little fun at my expense. Studies have actually shown that the brain does in fact have a funny bone. It’s located near the right frontal lobe just above the right eye. I instead picture hundreds of miniature comedians impatiently awaiting their turn to audition and deliver one liners.

Years ago, when Mr. Wiz* and I were discussing our wedding, we were in a quandary as to what to do. Having both been married before and now owning a business together, the guest list was increasing with each mention of the subject. A leisurely Sunday brunch at our favorite restaurant seemed like a good time to broach the subject. Our quick banter soon became heated. When his fruit appetizer appeared, it gave him the idea to try and diffuse the situation by uttering that old pun. “…Cantaloupe? … he said, grinning.

What he did not know at the time, was that I was probably one of the few people to not be in on that joke. I understood him to say “…Can’t elope….” After that, Mr. Wiz says all he can remember is me jumping up, kissing him and thanking him for wanting a wedding. He was still dazed, as the event took on a life of its own and wedding plans were in full swing by that afternoon.

Neurologically speaking, my system becomes nervous at the thought of those sound waves traveling from my ear canal to my ear drum. I only hope that my concentration levels are at a heightened state, so that those vibrations transmitted to my brain become words that I can live by or laugh at.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mom Mental Telepathy

Photo Mom Mental TelepathyAs part of my polka dot collection, (which is unfortunately quite meager due to my lack of success in polka dot item location tactics), I have a photo of Big A* in a polka dot frame. Every morning, all my advice comes spilling out to the photo of his smiling face with no interruptions; a mother’s dream. I wouldn’t dare share this with him directly. These are the things that would make for less mother/son phone calls. I am content to utilize mom mental telepathy.

Mr. Wiz* is my witness. Time after time, he has overheard my mother/frame conversations and then was stunned when a conversation with Big A revealed my thoughts/suggestions almost verbatim. I wonder if Mr. Wiz ever fears that he will awake one morning to see the kitchen crowded with smiling photos of him, along with family and friends, all framed in dots of polka, unaware that they will be telepathically transported to my realm.

There’s no need to worry. As mothers well know, it’s mainly our children that we feel the need to guide, protect and nurture, whether they want it or need it. Sure, you might get away with a few quick sprays of holy water as they exit your home, but they’ll catch on sooner or later. Telepathy offers you the ability to dial in at any time, speak your peace, then hang up with the same speed that you would when a telemarketer calls.

Studies have proven that you can exercise your telepathic ability. Have you ever thought of someone and then been surprised that they’ve suddenly contacted you? Has a premonition come true more than once? When I was in high school, I would telepathically zero in on my boyfriend. The next day, he would say how he couldn’t get me out of his mind and kept driving by my house, wondering where I was. In this particular case, I used advanced telepathy. By intermingling it with an observation and parking my car around the corner, I was able to create havoc in my boyfriend’s brain (caution: due to the brain cell circuitry of a teenage boy, proper training is recommended before embarking on this course of action).

I’ve passed my practice on to a few moms lately and they have all thanked me for such a noninvasive way to be invasive. Mom mental telepathy is the new helicopter parent without the blades. It’s a voodoo doll without the “voo” and the doll. It’s just a way to help persuade your child to “doo.” So, use your powers wisely, use them for good and above all else; be careful not to let your mom in on it.

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

Postscript:
Contrary to recent rumors, I do not hold a doctorate in the field of polka dotology. However, I do independent research in my spare time on the subject and am intrigued by its history. According to Wikipedia, the dot part comes from the Old English word “dott”, which means speck. It’s the polka that is a mystery to historians. Did it come from the dance craze that took Europe by storm in the 1800s? Did polka dancers wear dotted costumes?  No one can say for sure and the polka dot continues to baffle us as it creates its special spot in history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sibling Revelry       

Photo Sibling Revelry

No one seemed to know why so much time had gone by since we were all together, but it didn’t matter. We were here, right now and from the first hugs, it seemed as if we just took up where we had left off. There’s a magic in that; it’s that fast-forward gear to life that glides right over the past with all its crevices and back alleys and propels you to the clear, open vistas of the present moment.

Fun loving matriarch that she is, it was JC* that brought us together. It’s hard not to be all in when you are invited to the warmth of Austin, Texas in March. This was not her first rodeo, but it would be her guests’ initial experience attending one. Everyone was urged to bring their inner cowboy and cowgirl and dress for the occasion.

There would be seven of us: my New York sister and her son (note to self: remember that inviting a younger person means smooth sailing with any possible technology questions and glitches), my brother and his wife (law, shmaw; a sister-in-law is just like a sister), JC, Mr. Wiz* and me. With JC doing the planning, Mr. Wiz doing the driving in the seven-passenger car we would rent and me, all too eager to get started on the spreadsheet that would document and guide us through each day’s plans, there was no doubt that a good time would be had by all.

The days went by much too quickly. Funny stories from childhoods past intermingled with present day discussions of our lives. We learned that we were all foodies, were very health conscious, worked hard to be physically fit and still had no concept of potlucks nor had any inclination to participate in one (not a thing in and around New York City where we grew up).

My sister brought a special guest and with much fanfare introduced Zippy the monkey. A popular stuffed animal at the time, we could not believe she still had him after all those years. His new clothes (complete with a cowboy hat just for the occasion) helped to hide his shopworn look. We agreed it was fortunate that he could not talk or many a childhood faux pas would have been unleashed.

Once the floodgates opened, we all shared our favorite stories about my dad. After passing away so many years ago, it was testament to our love and devotion to him that he would still be so admired and thought of daily. What better tribute than that?

Though we agreed that we don’t really look alike, we decided that my sister resembled my dad and we saw his strong personality in her (we laughed to think that she was my dad in a dress). Though my brother looked more like our grandfather, he had that strength and determination inherited from our dad. I looked more like JC, but was a composite of both parents, personality wise.

When it was time to say goodbye, it really didn’t feel like a farewell. It seemed as if we were just getting started, restarted and it was one of the happiest days of my life. We instinctively held hands for just a minute and that old feeling came back and overwhelmed me.

The sibling connection is a strong one. It can withstand anything that confronts it. It’s a private club with lifelong membership. It’s a connectedness to the past, present and the future. It’s a feeling that, wherever you go, whatever you do, there is a fan club out there with your name on it.

In time, we plan to include our children in our get-togethers and reintroduce them to the family that almost got away, but was saved by a spirited, loving mother, a rodeo and the strong bond that time could not destroy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Ex; Why?

Photo Ex Why

It was one of those ladies room encounters that was not unusual. We were washing our hands at the same time and she said “…I like your haircut…” “…Thanks, I like your boots…” I replied. We both smiled, wished each other a nice evening and she exited.

Mr. Wiz* was waiting for me outside. His face was ashen, as if he had seen a ghost. “…The woman that just exited the ladies room was my ex-wife; haven’t seen her for years…” Theirs was a college marriage that, according to Mr. Wiz, only lasted a few minutes. In actuality, it ended two years after it began. Before we knew it, she had blended into the crowd and was gone.

That chance encounter brought back a flood of memories and for the next couple of days, we both shared stories of our past marriages; silly stories, funny anecdotes, hopeful beginnings, sad endings. That led us to one of our favorite discussions. We loved to tell each other our version of our first meeting and how our relationship developed.

Curiosity got the best of us. Mr. Wiz decided to Google his first wife. When no information came up, he put it behind him and moved on. That prompted me to also give it a try, but what I saw stopped me in my tracks.

It was an obituary. I stared at it for a long time, thinking it could not be the right person, but then I recognized the names of his deceased parents. It was sudden; a heart attack. I read it over and over again in disbelief. In all the time that had gone by, I had forgotten his middle name, forgotten his new wife’s name, forgotten he had two daughters.

For the next couple of days, it was all I thought about. Did he have a happy life? Was he kinder to his second wife than he was to me? What had he looked like later in life? I thought about my ex-family: an ex- mother-in-law, an ex- dog and an ex-grandfather (his dad’s father) who was always a favorite of mine. To this day, each time I look for a recipe in the basket he gave me all those years ago, I think about him.

I wondered why a former spouse and everything that goes with them is called an “ex”? I realize that it’s a past relationship, but the prefix denotes such finality. For many, a divorce with children is just a new way of family life. When we move, it’s not our ex-home. When we change careers, we don’t usually refer to our old job as our ex-job. How about substituting the word “former”? All our life experiences need to stand up and be counted, so that they can be blended in that big cocktail shaker of life and poured out into the world, making us the person we are right now.

I remembered that, as the marriage to my high school sweetheart was sadly coming to an end, only one of the many friends we had ever spoke to me again. That forced me to wipe the slate clean and kick-start my life all over again. I thought about the last thing he ever said to me: “…Next time, I’ll find someone ordinary…” Left-handed compliment that it was, it actually gave me a newfound confidence.

I looked up, told him that I forgave him and hoped he had taken advantage of the do-over he was offered; I know I had made the best of mine. Then, as we do when we come to the last page of a book, I closed that chapter of my life and tucked it away, not willing to reread it over and over again, but not willing to tear out any of the pages either.

 

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

 

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.

 

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.