Texpert in Training

“We’re from Texas.” Europeans say they are always rather surprised that, except for Texans, most Americans reply “U.S.A.” when asked where they’re from. 

Thinking back to all the places we’ve moved, Texas might be the only place where we felt embraced on arrival and much like country fried steak and cream gravy, we were only too happy to soak it up. 

Known as “The Friendly State,” Texans are approachable and welcoming, known to strike up a conversation just about anywhere. That explains a deep discussion with a beautiful, young waitress at Austin’s Lamberts Downtown Barbeque as to whether she should permanently remove any of her full body tattoos and a conversation with a breeder, at my first armadillo race, about his special rearing techniques. 

Neighborly seems to take on a new meaning here. Having resided in cities where eye contact was a novelty and neighbors’ names were a mystery, you quickly settle into a pleasant flow of greeting and conversing with everyone you meet, waving hello to each car that passes by and smiling a lot. Neighbors open their homes, their garages and their gardens to you and you, likewise return the favors, wondering why life wasn’t like this all along.

Don’t blame Texas for its boldness. It’s a big state (second largest after Alaska) and can’t help its outsized persona: big personalities, big trucks, big steaks. Suffice to say, there’s not much in the petite category here. 

There’s something unique about Texas and I’ve whole heartedly accepted its invitations to experience its distinctive vibe:

Chicken S**t Bingo
Where else can you spend a Sunday afternoon that includes chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat? The band was loud, the beer cold and the Little Longhorn Saloon was packed. The $2 ticket had a number on it and gave you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. As luck would have it, the chicken left her “mark” on my number and I was the winner of $115 in cash!

Weird homes Tour
By the end of the day, we had driven 90 miles all-around Austin, exploring homes that put the “E” in eccentricity. Whether it was a series of domes rumored to have special healing powers or the royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat-screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood there, gaping at the TV), we were not sure if it was the police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, the doll heads under glass, a hollowed-out armadillo holding guest towels or the enthusiastic homeowners that we’d remember the most.

We arrived at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after-party, a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. As scantily dressed acro-yoginis glided up yards of silk fabric and performed above our heads, we learned from the more adventurous guests that anything crunchy with a barbecue flavor (crickets and mealy worms) were edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka. 

Live music
Famous for its music venues, you soon learn that whether it’s a renovated gas station, a timeworn dance hall or a bar; in Texas, an old wooden table, a band and some cold beer leads to toe tapping. Under the watchful eye of the sassy owner’s daughter, we took a dance class at The Broken Spoke (one of the aforementioned dance halls) and are now able to two-step alongside cowboys, wondering how we waited this long for a dose of honky-tonk. 

Food, fun and fame
The drive to HEB, the local grocery store, always puts a smile on my face. Passing the open fields on each side of the road, the only traffic you notice might be the cows vying for the same sweet spot of grass. 

Pronounced as H-E-B, it stands for Herbert E. Butt, its founder’s initials. Recently, HEB was named the top U.S. grocery store retailer by Dunnhumby, a global leader in data science (sorry, Trader Joes and Amazon!). With a Chief Medical Officer, a medical board and a pandemic plan already in place, once the coronavirus hit, they quickly contacted top retailers in China and Europe to gain insight as to how the illness had progressed and its effects on employees, the supply chain and shopping behavior. All this combined with its state shaped novelty items and locally sourced products, led many Texans to joke that maybe H.E.B. should run for President!

While I’m not sure that I was actually on the lookout for a state to call my own, I can honestly say that I’m in a blissful state of mind and feeling pretty comfortable in my cowboy hat and boots, ordering my BBQ “fatty,” making sure we have yearly tickets to the rodeo and even adding “Y’all” to a sentence now and then. 

While moving may come with its share of disappointments, my only regret is that our community association has put the nix on the Tuff Shed that I dreamed about in our backyard, a little haven that would’ve served as a writer’s retreat/guest house. Nevertheless, I have decided to use that fortitude that Texans are known for in order to research stealth technology, thereby making both any frustrations and the Tuff Shed less visible.

The Name Game

JC* looked lovingly at the photo of the cat. “If I foster Melrose, I think I’ll call her Rosie,” she said. “What?!” I exclaimed, trying hard to suppress my exactness and not get my dander up, “But, Melrose is her name. Won’t she be confused? Can you just do that?”

Then I remembered something. As a teenager, JC decided that she didn’t like her given name Joan; it was too plain and ordinary. She complained so much to her mother that all of sudden she started calling her daughter Joanne. The name seemed to stick and as she got older, JC  attached herself to her new name, driver’s license, passport and all. 

Meanwhile in Michigan around the same time, my mother-in-law wasn’t too keen on her name, Shirley. So just as quickly as JC, she started calling herself by her middle name, Patricia. In those simpler times, changing your name was as easy as saying “Hey, from now on, call me (insert new name here)”; no filing fees, no appearance before a court clerk and no FBI surveillance to worry about. 

My sister and I became curious. “Were there other names you were considering for us before we were born? we asked. Though it had been so many years ago, the stories were still vivid in JC’s mind. Each time, she had excitedly mentioned names to my dad and his family; Lola for me and Carmen for my sister. But, both times, my Latin grandmother shook her head no, gazing at her with those dark, almost black eyes that sparkled when she was happy and put a whole through you when she was not. 

Being young and respectful, JC didn’t question my grandmother’s nonverbal comments and with no command of the Spanish language, she thought it best to acquiesce. After all, maybe it was not in good taste to call a baby girl Lolita (in Spanish, adding “ita” to the end of a name is a form of endearment). 

This made me wonder; what’s in a name? Does a name make you who you are? Or, does who you are define your name? Will a Pointdexter grow up to be a nuclear space scientist? Did rock singer, Frank Zappa do a disservice to his children, Dweezil and Moon Unit, who might have had their hearts set on becoming the first brother/sister supreme court justices?  

“You would have made a great Carmen,” I said to my sister, “You have such a feisty, strong personality. “Likewise,” she said, “I could definitely see you as a Lola, living in Madrid and flamenco dancing your days away.”

It was then that my sister announced that on her 60thbirthday, she just might change her name to Carmen (legally, not the old-fashioned way) and may even dye her hair black. She has invited me to join her, but while the Lola in me throws her head back in abandon and laughingly says “Dale!” (Spanish for “Go for it!”), the Linda lurking inside me is logically considering weighing the pros and cons on an Excel spreadsheet.

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

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Write or Wrong?

Go ahead; pick a day, any day going back to 1968 and I will tell you what was going on in my life. I’m a keeper of significantly insignificant information. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been systematizing my life with pen and paper. 

Some of my favorite keepsakes are my calendars. Starting with the free Hallmark giveaways and advancing to a Filofax, I’d take great pleasure in jotting down as much as could fit into those little squares. 

Then, there were the outfit lists. In junior high and high school, I would write down what I wore each day on a monthly form I had designed. Besides keeping me fashion forward, this may have also had something to do with helping me with my confidence level. 

Rereading some old journals recently brought back some wonderful, almost forgotten memories. What surprised me the most was the detail in which I wrote. 

As the New York salesperson for a housewares company, I prided myself on my notebook. Written in a code that my Dad had taught me where each number was assigned a letter, I had all the pertinent information about every account at my fingertips. In those pre-computer days, this was the equivalent of carrying around a file cabinet; invaluable. 

There I stood feeling confident, my notebook tucked under my arm, fully prepared and ready to meet with the Bloomingdales buyers in our company showroom during show week. Not known for their kind, approachable personalities, the entourage strutted in, dressed to kill in black, hiding behind their designer sunglasses. Even my boss, known for his jesting, quietly whispered a greeting, almost bowing in reverence to them. 

Yet to make eye contact, they settled in, calculators in hand in order to determine the 15% additional markup they would add to the retail price of each item (from that day forward, I never shopped at Bloomingdales again). Just as I was about to begin my presentation, I felt a tug on my precious notebook. 

It was Arnold Adler, the company’s leading salesperson. Famous in housewares industry circles, Arnold’s career had started 50 years ago as he rode trains across the country, selling his wares. I was fortunate that Arnold would take the time to mentor me whenever we would see each other, but on this day, all Arnold did was take the notebook from me and whisper “You really don’t need this.” There was no time to panic; any second I could lose the interest of my aloof audience. I continued on, obtained the order and never let them see me sweat.

I have Arnold to thank for reminding me that, while my writing might guide me through life, it should not become a crutch. Maybe my focus on organizing myself was just a way for my Type A personality to be slowly introduced to the A B C’s of writing, something that I enjoy to this day.

Times have changed and unfortunately, the month at a glance calendar on my iPhone, though ever so handy, leaves me no room for details, but I carry on. Still, nothing lights up my life like an excuse to prepare an Excel spreadsheet. Some might argue that these little projects of mine are time wasters, but to me they are quiet reminders, chronicling my life into little blocks of minutiae that only its creator could love. 

Oh, and if you’ve ever been invited to my home, all the way back to 1983, I can tell you what was on the menu.

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What Would Rosie the Riveter Do?

Photo Rosie the Riveter 1Photo Rosie the Riveter 2Photo Rosie the Riveter 2

Crossing the days off the calendar, not knowing when my hairdresser and I would be able to resume our relationship again left me frustrated. Well into quarantining, I arose one morning and started the day laughing, as I glanced at myself in the mirror. With uncontrollable curls now standing high all over my head, all I could think of was that I looked like Bozo the Clown’s illegitimate daughter. Thinking quickly, I gathered up my hair and harnessed those stubborn ringlets with a red bandana. “Good morning, Rosie the Riveter,” Mr. Wiz* said with a smile, as he kissed me.

During World War II, Rosie the Riveter was the star of a campaign to recruit female workers for male jobs in the defense industry, as men went off to war. In May 1943, Norman Rockwell celebrated those heroic women with his iconic painting on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post and people hummed the catchy tune of a popular song dedicated to Rosie.

One of Westinghouse Electric’s wartime posters coined the phrase “We can do it!” along with Rosie’s picture to encourage women to join the labor force. The poster was only displayed for two weeks, until another replaced it. Rosie enjoyed a resurgence in the 1980s due to the 40thanniversary of World War II, the National Archives allowing licensing rights and the push for women’s rights.

Who was Rosie the Riveter? According to history.com, she was 20-year-old Naomi Parker, whose photo was snapped by a photographer as she worked in a machine shop at the Naval Air Station in Alameda, California. Naomi’s secret identity was finally revealed when she was 94 years old and she was able to enjoy the recognition until she died two years later.

Lately I’ve been thinking: what would Rosie do? If she were here now, she would make the best of her situation, just as she always had. She would help any way she could. She would be grateful for what she had during this difficult time, rather than gripe about what she was missing. She would look at the gift of time as a blessing.

I am riveted by Rosie, her story and her moxie.

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

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Thank Those Lemons, Then Make Limoncello    

Photo Lemons Limoncllo

I spent most of my 13th year of life in our family bathroom, crying. Back then, things just never seemed to work out as I had planned. Boyfriend angst, girlfriend drama, body issues, academic concerns, shyness, lack of confidence; I had no idea how to deal with my struggles.

JC* and my Dad took turns talking to me out of earshot of my three young siblings, for my sake and probably for the sake of the family, since that house only had one bathroom. JC would regale me with stories of her childhood and how she and her independent streak would band together and seem to overcome any obstacles. My Dad would remind me how the army had built him back up, giving him the determination to set goals that might have seemed out of reach to others and one by one, accomplish them.

Hoping I had inherited the best of my parents’ personalities, it was in my 16th year that I ventured entirely out of my comfort zone and entered a modeling contest at the local upscale teen fashion shop. Excited to be able to choose my wardrobe, it turned out that my first and second choices were not in my size. When the knowledgeable saleslady steered me over to my correct size, which was a bit larger, I thought it must be a mistake; it wasn’t.

I didn’t win, but I remember the owner telling me I had a nice smile. So, the next day when I went shopping for boots and the salesman told JC that I had large calves (I was sitting right there), I realized I had a big decision to make; I could see myself with large calves or a nice smile and I chose the latter. As it turned out, the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree. I had succeeded in taking my first step toward Lemonade 101.

A love lost that steered me toward my true partner. A career change that sparked my creativity. A move that landed me where I belonged. Tears that made me appreciate every smile. Maladies that helped me to celebrate life. When I think back to the disappointments that have engulfed me over the years, I can reflect and see clearly how the increasingly positive attitude I was developing, encouraged me to squeeze all I could out of a situation and then mix it with what new possibilities lie ahead.

As I mature, I like to think that in the big lemonade stand of life, I have graduated to Limoncello and created a more sophisticated version of myself, drinking in experiences, with pinky up, sipping at an outdoor café and confident in the knowledge that the end is usually just a new beginning.

 

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

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Sole Searching

Photo HIking Boots

Me and my Merrell Moab Ventilators in Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain

Let’s just say that I am not known for my sports prowess and leave it at that. It wasn’t until 2016 that I finally found my sport; walking! Standing at the top of that mountain, after trying on my first hiking boots gave me a wonderful sense of exhilaration. And as I stepped down from the four-foot, plaster mountain in the shoe department of the REI store, I felt downright giddy.

Thus, began an intimate relationship with my hiking boots. I remember those first few awkward days as we got to know each other. I’d tie them over and over, trying for a not too tight, but not too loose a fit. I broke them in, walking the city streets of Chicago. Little did they know that they were soon destined to walk 500 miles through Spain on the Camino de Santiago, the 1000- year-old route to the Shrine of the Apostle St. James in northern Spain’s medieval city of Santiago de Compostela.

Skittish at first of the uphills, downhills, rocky terrain and water crossings, I finally settled into a rhythm whereby my boots seemed to be leading me. They helped me to define my comfort zone. I likened this to a car with new tires and the confidence you feel as their traction assists you in navigating the road.

If those boots could talk! They’ve staggered through rainstorms, forced to listen to us taking turns singing Broadway show tunes to pass the time, then left overnight, stuffed fat with newspaper. They’ve been caked in mud and sat alone, not allowed entry into our hotel room. Regardless, they always know that once they arrive home, they will be well scrubbed and placed on their side in their original shoebox, toe to heel, until their next adventure.

Lately, circumstances have dictated that those boots become a basic necessity, once again, as I walk miles each day. Whatever the weather (or my temperament), as soon as I fit my foot snugly into each one, I feel a sudden sense of exhilaration. It’s amazing what can go on while your feet are moving. The recurring sound of my boots hitting the pavement, crunching leaves or trudging through dirt paths, creates a Zen backdrop.

Ever the shoe lover, I must confess that even the pride and joy of my collection, my Allen Edmonds brown and white spectators, don’t give me the lift that my boots do. My hiking boots may seem like the ugly duckling compared to their classic elegance, but they serve their purpose and serve it well.

Thankful that I have finally outgrown my 30 years of clumsiness, I welcome this new phase of my life, resigned to let my feet lead the way and take one step at a time.

 

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Guatemala, Hypnosis and My Lost Wedding Ring

Photo Lost Wedding Ring

At first, new friends thought we were one of those cool couples that never married (like Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell). It only took 10 minutes into a Happy Hour for me to blurt out that I had misplaced my wedding ring. Not taking it on a hiking trip was a good idea; not remembering where I had hidden it was not.

Soon neighbors (some I had never met) were chiming in. When out walking, I’d receive a friendly wave and a comment such as “Did you check behind the washer and dryer?” Friends that entered my home asked if they could take a quick look around for me. Unfortunately, I remained anxious and the ring remained lost.

A lovely woman insisted I borrow her Guatemalan worry dolls. Apparently, there is a legend that if you have a problem, you share it with the worry dolls, place them under your pillow and when you awake, the dolls will have taken your worries away. In the morning, I awoke in a panic to find them missing. After removing the bedding and crawling around, I found them nestled together under the bed. Hoping that their mojo would still work through a mini zip-close bag, those one-inch tall little devils were sealed up from then on.

“How about a hypnotist?” suggested another woman. A friend of hers would soon be performing locally and maybe she could assist. Unfortunately, the hypnotist was not available, but steered me to a colleague. New at the hypnosis game and eager for the practice, the young gentleman was eager to work with me over the phone at no charge.

With a silken voice, he instructed me to get comfortable in a quiet space and relax (hard to do with Mr. Wiz* curiously peering in at me every few minutes). With eyes closed and headphones on, I listened to him softly directing me to think of myself looking down onto a map of my home. “The map is white and there is a blue dot where you are standing. Is the blue dot moving anywhere?” he quietly asked, repeatedly. Hard as I tried that darn dot wouldn’t budge. The session ended and though disappointed, I thanked him profusely for his time.

If only I had a metal detector; was that my thought or was I still a bit woozy? I decided to put an announcement on the community bulletin board, asking if someone could BYOMD (bring your own metal detector) and help me find my ring for a reward. Not more than an hour later, a neighbor (whom I had not yet met) texted me to say he would gladly assist. Mr. Wiz was taken a bit by surprise when he asked what that noise was and I said it was just my good friend, Harry (not his real name), in my closet. As hard as he tried, Harry had no luck, but he did compliment me on my closet organizational skills.

At this point, months had gone by. Still ringless, I now found myself with a new problem to focus on; an itch that just wouldn’t go away. It arrived out of nowhere and commanded my full attention. Out of the blue, Epsom salts came to mind and relentlessly stayed there. Let me just interject here that Epsom salts and I have no history. Confused as I was, I finally acquiesced and decided a bath might do me some good.

As I pulled the zip-close bag out from under the sink in the guest bathroom, something in a smaller zip-close bag sparkled in the light. It was my ring! I slinked down the wall and sat on the floor, lovingly hugging the bag and scolding it at the same time, just as you might when you’ve found a missing child. I tenderly gave it a bath in jewelry cleaner, placed it back on my finger and ran to find Mr. Wiz. Little did I know then, that the itch would vanish just as quickly as it had presented itself.

Guatemala, hypnosis, metal detectors, Epsom salts and many zip-close bags later, I have no idea what the moral of this story is, but the next time I decide to hide any jewelry I’ll be sure to let you all know first.

 

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

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Spring Didn’t Get the Memo

Photo Coronavirus 1

Texas Bluebonnets welcome us each morning, as we begin our hike

Spring didn’t get the memo today
Flowers bloomed while birds blissfully sang
Quarantined within these lovely surroundings
Making sense of the yin and the yang

There’s a long grocery line and I imagine
The cart handle is a ballet bar
I can use it to exercise, but one yoga downward dog
And my husband says he’s headed to the car

I’ve come to appreciate simple pleasures
Like a six-foot visit with a neighbor on the street
Or ordering local takeout
Always good, but now delicious to eat

Some neighborhoods open their windows nightly
And in unison they happily sing
Parents and children spend precious time together
Something only hunkering down can bring

Be comforted that we’ll be well read, well fed
And most probably binge watched out
Remember there’s always a beginning, a middle and an end
This too shall pass, there’s absolutely no doubt

And, when we open our doors and reenter the world
Heads held high, though needing a hairdresser’s touch
We’ll be thankful that spring reminded us to be grateful
For our country, state and city that mean so much

Photo Coronavirus 2

Nothing like a message in a tree to start the day right

 

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It’s Never Too Late for Fate

She ripped the letter open while still standing in her driveway. Her old college boyfriend had written to those he’d had past friendships with, explaining that since his wife had died, he was looking to rekindle relationships to fill the void. Her life passed in front of her, as she remembered the fun they’d had together, how their lives had veered off in different directions, how her marriage wasn’t the fairy tale she had envisioned.

She walked into the house and called him, the letter still in her hand. She could tell by his voice that he was overjoyed to hear from her. Before she knew it, she had accepted an invitation to visit him. By their second meeting, he told her that he’d lost her once, and was not about to let it happen again. No one had given her those butterflies in her stomach for a very long time. As she sat on the plane, heading to her new home, she knew that moving in with him was her destiny, never having envisioned another chance for true love.

Single and living in the same community, they seemed to have a lot in common. The two women soon became exercise buddies and prodded each other into attending more neighborhood events together.

When a close family relation died, she knew she would be there for her new friend. She politely made small talk as she was introduced to the other guests at the funeral. When she met her friend’s cousin, she was taken aback. He was so charming and easy to talk to. They made plans to meet for dinner the next day and a romance blossomed from there. Little did she know what fate was awaiting her and what an interesting story of their meeting she would have.

Enough! After years of laboring on match.com as if it were a part time job and with no success, she was ready to exit the online dating world, except for one thing: she had forgotten that her account self-renewed, since she hadn’t canceled it ahead of time. Annoyed, she took a friend’s advice and went on a few “last” dates, just to get her money’s worth.

They lived so far apart that they planned to meet half way. She was already telling herself that this was a mistake. He had a nice smile and seemed like an interesting person. What she couldn’t get over was how he seemed to listen to her every word. In time, the distance didn’t seem to matter.

This wasn’t their first rodeo; they knew what they wanted out of life, so they went for it, but not in the traditional way. They bought a house together, went on a European honeymoon and then got married. Her terrible divorce, her cancer; it all seemed like someone else’s life. Now it was her time to shine.

What makes these stories even sweeter is that the heroines range in age from 55 – 69 years young. They never expected to find love, but said it found them. Sometimes we need to hop into the back seat and let the universe steer us to exactly where we belong.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Rats, Another Chinese New Year!

Photo Chinese New Year 1

It was a typical Friday evening (or so I thought). I had made a dinner reservation at one of JC’s* favorite restaurants after she had experienced a particularly trying week. It seems that the bird watching club she was so excited to join was too far to travel to. On top of that, she was just told that she was now on the waitlist for free ukulele lessons. In the spirit of the upcoming Lunar New Year celebration, I made a reservation for the three of us (me, JC and Mr. Wiz*) to dine at Lin Asian Bar.

I didn’t realize the cup was full of water. The interesting metal cup looked vintage and when I picked it up to get a better look, it spilled all over me. As our waiter, Kanye, ran over to help clean it up, I said: “And, I didn’t even have a glass of wine yet.” His reply: “It should be interesting when you do” immediately endeared me to him.

Kanye asked if I knew that spilling water meant good luck in Chinese tradition. He told us that while helping his stern grandmother move to a new home, he accidently spilled some water on her floor. Rather than being chastised, she hugged him and thanked him for the blessing. The evening was starting out better than I’d thought.

This is the Year of the Rat. In Chinese culture, the rat symbolizes wealth and because of its reproduction rate, couples pray to them for children. Also known as Lunar New Year, this holiday marks the start of the Chinese lunar calendar and was originally a time to pray to the gods for a good harvest. It’s the longest Chinese holiday and celebrates with the most fireworks set off in the world. Because the elderly Chinese live in rural areas and most of their children live in cities, the country experiences the largest human migration in the world during this holiday period. Singles actually go to the extreme of hiring fake boyfriends or girlfriends to bring home to family festivities, rather than be interrogated about their personal lives.

In order to not wash away any good luck, showering is not recommended on new year’s day and no sweeping or trash pickup is allowed for a few days. Red decorations adorn homes, people dress in red and children receive monetary gifts in red envelopes to signify good fortune.

After a couple of restaurant visits, I am now able to master the Shanghai Soup Dumplings: lift the broth filled dumpling carefully into the small cup without breaking it, prick it with your chopsticks, pour the sauce over it, eat the dumpling then drink the broth. We ate slowly, enjoying our wine pairing and hoping that our Orange Peel Beef and Seafood Delight with Birds Nest (assorted seafood in a crispy potato shaped nest) might last longer.

By the time we sipped our usual hot sake instead of dessert, Kanye had explained the custom of kissing each others’ foreheads for good fortune. As we left and thanked him for a wonderful evening, he shared with us that his name was actually not Kanye, but he liked the sound of it, so found no need to correct us.

We walked home, arm in arm, laughing as we recounted the interesting evening. Giddy, still damp and with a kiss from Kanye on my forehead, I could only speculate how this good fortune might present itself in the coming year.

Photo Chinese New Year 2

Me and Kanye (who’s not really Kanye)

 

 

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

Author’s Note:

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