Savor the Small

Photo Savor the Small

The older woman at the gym looked right at me as if she knew me and spoke. “…Seeing Rachel so clean made me so happy this morning. After we washed her last time we tried running over with the car to try to squeeze the water out…” I had intended to make a quick exit, but my curiosity got the better of me. “And, who’s Rachel?..” I asked. “…Oh, it’s the rug that our cat sleeps on. She loves it because it’s the same color as her mom, Rachel was, so we named it Rachel the Rug…” And with that, she bid me farewell, leaving me to scratch my head and smile, as I was reminded of how those small things in life can bring us such joy.

I started listening a bit more intently to those around me to see if I could pick up any of the delights in their lives. One friend said that, on entering the kitchen each morning, just the sight of the coffeepot, sugar bowl and the creamer waiting to be filled warms her. Another shared that he loves to sit on his porch and sing along to old cowboy songs. A comment I’d heard more than once was that sitting down with a good book was like welcoming back an old friend.

Every morning, I look forward to my first sip of hot tea and I enjoy the quiet that comes from locking myself in our study. After I get comfortable on the sofa, I gaze across the room at the bookshelf and look at each memento; a photo or an object that reminds me of some chapter of my life. I say a few prayers and try to meditate. Then, the laptop comes out and I begin writing. When I finally open those French doors to begin my day, I feel utterly refreshed.

These occurrences we’re personally experiencing each day, though miniature in size, have a way of counteracting the complex, fast-paced routines of our daily lives. It’s life’s balancing act, prompting us to ride the wave, but not to let it drown us.

The phone ringing and Big A’s* voice on the other end saying …”Hey there!..,” the way Mr. Wiz* interlocks my pinky with his on days when it’s just too warm out to hold hands, an old family photo album, cooking to the sound of a favorite song; these are the things I want to make sure I hold close. What are the tiny treasures in your life?

 

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

 

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A Toast to My Dad

Photo FLC FD

After the first sip of their martini, the conversation was to begin. The plan was to meet my parents and announce that Mr. Wiz* and I had decided to move in together. Since my dad, of Latin descent, had never even grasped the concept of a children’s sleep over and that remained forbidden territory, it seemed only right to welcome cocktails into the discussion.

Mr. Wiz took a deep breath and, in his deep, professional voice, presented our strategy. He started off by letting his deep feelings for me be known. If we shared a household, we would then be able to lease a showroom for the business we owned together. Both having already been divorced, we would then take our time and let the relationship blossom.

The uncomfortable silence was broken when my dad slowly took a sip of his martini, looked Mr. Wiz straight in the eyes from across the table and said “…What?! How well do we know you? Let me tell you something; one call and I could have your legs broken. Do you understand what I’m saying?..”

After that, things got a bit fuzzy. I remember yelling “…Daddy!..,” jumping up from the table and heading to the ladies room with JC* following behind me. As she wiped away my tears, I remember JC explaining that when you were born in Hell’s Kitchen (a section of New York City whose ambiance needs no explanation), this was almost a prerequisite to a family welcome.

I calmed down and we both headed back to the table, not knowing what to expect. To my surprise, my dad and Mr. Wiz were leaning in toward each other, talking and laughing as if nothing had happened. That was the start of a beautiful relationship and to this day, what transpired during their secret meeting has never been divulged.

From humble beginnings and with little formal education, he had no choice but to put his head down and forge ahead, until each of his goals were accomplished. Once successful, his go big or go home attitude was tempered with his advice to always stay just a little under what you could afford.

When he would instill in me that I should do it right or not at all, I’m sure I’d roll my eyes and then begin again, methodically working toward an end goal that would make us both proud.

The first time he announced his belief that everyone is No. 1 after you, I thought it extremely selfish until I realized that, once again, he was right. Now, every time an airline instructs us to place our oxygen mask on first before assisting others, I can’t help but smile.

How many times since his passing have I wondered what he would’ve done in a similar situation. And, how many times have I known just what to do.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Do You Portmanteau?

Photo Portmanteau

Move over, Abba, Ikea and meatballs, there’s a new Swedish trend that’s cleaning up. Leave it to those Swedes; they are able to bewilder us and create a new fitness craze all at the same time. According to a recent issue of American Way (the American Airlines magazine), picking up litter while jogging (plogging) benefits the environment and your body all at once. In fact, ploggers burn 175 more calories an hour than mere joggers. Already popular in Europe, plogging is on its way to a jogging trail near you.

Which makes me wonder; is Sweden on to something? Maybe we should take multitasking to a new level by combining activities that have no reason to be intermingled and jumble them together just for the heck of it.

We can thank the French for the creation of words such as smog (smoke and fog) and motel (motor and hotel). Back in the 16th century the first portmanteau (two words combined into a new one) was spoken and the fascination of coining new words continues to this day.

Writing has always been known as a solitary endeavor. What would happen if you merged it with some free form hopping? Wopping might loosen you up, unlock your creativity and give you a cardio workout all at the same time. Still in the trial stage, some writer’s clubs have reported back that even though some volunteer woppers have experienced motion sickness and larger than normal paper cuts, they have all since bounced back and the research study continues.

Most likely, nothing good will come from trinking (texting while drinking). I imagine bars displaying signs with a big red line through this newly created word to remind its guests that one loose trink can alter your life. Somewhere, someone working out of their parents’ garage will come up with an Apple iPhone application that will be able to sense the alcohol level of the phone’s owner, have a black coffee delivered to its location, lock the phone and have Siri provide a lecture the next day about responsibility.

Psychologists interviewed were curiously optimistic about finging (fighting while singing). Now you would be able to get out your aggression in the musical style of your choice. Imagine two men in a parking lot, one scratched car and the sounds of Pavarotti and Snoop Dog echoing through the air. Couples counseling would take on the rhythm of a Broadway Show, with some husbands and wives actually breaking into a tap dance number. Fingers would be snapped, toes would be tapped and harmony would prevail.

In a perfect world, we would not need to link our words together. We could live life one word at a time, giving each one its due, articulating its meaning and savoring its uniqueness. A word to the wise; use your portmanteaus prudently.

 

Childhood and Sisterhood; It’s All Relative

Photo Sister

Enjoying my morning cup of tea while watching a hedgehog have minor surgery is not how I usually start my day. I am a guest at my sister’s home and “Animal Planet” has replaced the “Today” show this morning. 

There are plenty more items on my sister’s animal to-do list. Before the week is over, she intends for me to get chummy with the Dixie Chicks (her four chickens), pet Meeko (her cat) at least once and pal around with Spanky (her dog) who, having sniffed me from head to toe, seems to be considering whether to include me in the same daily welcome status as the mailman. 

This morning, we hear a combination of a honk/crow coming from the chicken coop. This is the signal from the chickens that an egg has been layed. It’s time for my tour of the chicken coop. I learn how to pick up a chicken from behind and choose Dixie to pose with. When I proudly send the photo to Mr. Wiz* and Big A*, they have a good laugh, asking if there was any photoshopping involved and if I will confirm my identity once home and succumb to the family secret handshake. I pick up the eggs from the nesting box and a few minutes later they are being scrambled for our breakfast; delicious! 

I am the city girl, she is the country gal and we are as different as an egg soufflé and a hard-boiled egg. My sister is my dad with a skirt on (which is probably why I love her so much); she is tough, resilient and says what’s on her mind. She cannot seem to sit still and operates at a fast pace, multitasking her way through life. Case in point: while I am methodically preparing and steeping my tea, she has entered her kitchen, executed 40 squats (thus fulfilling her morning exercise regimen) and prepared two dozen of my favorite muffins.

I know it must be bewildering to her as to why the books in my bookcase at home are arranged by author and date of publication and why the chairs in my living room are in perfect alignment to the coffee table. And I’m sure it’s perplexing how I am able to share with her the menus from her visit back in 1984 or produce an Excel spreadsheet on just about any subject. 

Why are we so different? In a recent article from The New York Times, studies by behavioral scientists have revealed that siblings are influenced more by their microenvironment. As it turns out, the family setting does not operate the same for each child. Since each child is unique, personality seems to be formed from experiences not shared, rather than common experiences. 

My sister and I do share an unusual amount of eye rolling, trying to comprehend why we are who we are. Grocery shopping is a good example. She demonstrates her free form, no list technique. As I run down the aisles, trying to keep up with her, I feel lightheaded and anxious, marveling at how the cookbook in her head is planning menus at lightning speed. 

In the hopes of proposing that my shopping list by aisle strategy might be of interest to her, I send a colorful shopping list pad along with her birthday gift. I get the message that, though this will not be a bonding experience, our sense of humor is, when I receive her thank you note written on one of the pages of the pad. 

The night before I leave, we drink wine and dance to our favorite Fleetwood Mac songs under the same sign that, surprisingly, is displayed in both our kitchens: “Never Enough Thyme.” I smile and am reminded that variety is the spice of life and we need to spend our time/thyme together toasting those glimmers of similarities and celebrating our yin and yang.

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

 

Thank You for Flying Lindita Airlines

Photo Lindita Airlines

Below zero weather in Chicago always brought out the imagination in me. When Big A* was a little boy, we’d both look forward to a day of pretend; our favorite was Lindita Airlines (adding “ita” to a name in Spanish denotes affection).

I’d set out rows of two dining room chairs next to each other and one at the head (the cockpit). While Big A was busy packing his suitcase and loading up the briefcase he’d asked Santa for last Christmas, I was considering my costumes; I’d wear a blue blazer for flight attendant duties and add an apron when serving.

He would choose which stuffed animals would be accompanying him on the flight and together we’d look at the map on the wall of his room and decide on a destination, making sure not to select a place we’d already been, denoted by pins. Then, we’d do a little research on the city, its history and its language.

Ticket in hand (we’d collected old ones just for this occasion), he’d eagerly sit on the sofa with a magazine, awaiting the announcement that his flight was ready to board. I’d welcome him aboard, thank him for flying Lindita Airlines and show him to his seat. Once his luggage was safely stored under the seat in front of him and his seat belt was securely fastened (one of his dad’s old belts tied around the chair), we were ready for takeoff. Now the pilot (unfortunately, Lindita Airlines suffered a downturn in profits this year and had to retrain their flight attendants to take on the commercial pilot duties as well), I announced the flying time, cruising altitude and the flight plan.

Back to my attendant duties, I asked my favorite passenger if he’d like to watch an on-board movie (TV show) before the meal was served. After that, I introduced him to a fellow passenger who was a college student on his way to Spain to study abroad for a semester (and all these years, Big A had thought that was his idea).

Big A was a bit shocked when the meal was served; orange juice in a shot glass and three peanuts in a dish. He called over the flight attendant (who quickly put the plane on autopilot to attend to her passenger), complained and asked to see the supervisor. I quickly took off my apron and introduced myself as the CEO, explaining that times were tough on Lindita Airlines and cutbacks were necessary. After much negotiation, we agreed that he would be moved to first class and offered a better meal.

On arrival, I welcomed my passenger to his destination and reminded him of the time and weather conditions. He waited his turn to exit and headed straight for the hotel check in desk, where I welcomed him to the Lindita Hotel and Spa Resort. He chose a room on the executive level (his bedroom) and got comfortable. Fortunately, it was game day, and he was able to choose his favorite games to play with the other guests (me). By days end, he was ready to unpack his bags and await his dad’s arrival, eager to tell him where he had traveled that day.

This is probably the reason why Big A thinks nothing of a weekend jaunt to anywhere on a moment’s notice, welcomes traveling back and forth to far off destinations on business and usually plans his next vacation before he arrives home.

On those freezing, snowy afternoons, I was able to pass on my love of travel and sense of adventure. To this day, nothing is better than our family exploring the world together, sharing experiences and holding the memories close.

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

Which Ish is Which?

Photo Ish

These three letters are my gift to you
But, use them wisely whatever you do

Ish was born in merry England of old
The suffix is sly when its meanings unfold

It prays on naivety to get its meaning across
Ish’s gain could very well be your loss

“Insert Sarcasm Here” is its acronym when you text
And while you’re pondering that, let me tell you what’s next

So that rap songs are able to play on the air
A slang was created to edit when they swear

The words are jumbled, making the song now legit
You guessed it, ish is rap lingo for *#!%

And now, the ishs you’ve been waiting for
Keep this one your back pocket and with people you’ll score

It lessens the intensity when added to a word
It’s not really a lie, just an opinion blurred

“…It’s a bit smallish…”, “…She looks youngish…”, you respond with confidence
Knowing full well you’ll never be accused of false pretense

I’ve saved the very best for last
Of this one, I’m a real enthusiast

“I’ll be ready at sixish”, you say with a smile
Your partner’s scratching his/her head wondering all the while

Are we coming or going? Do we even have a date?
Will we be arriving early or be fashionably late?

So, gather your ishs and dole them out where you may
And remember, it’s not what you think, it’s what you say

 

Shout out: to my Sun City posse for their ish inspiration.

Classified Information: Our Family’s Secret Language

Photo Classified

It all started while watching one of those late night black and white movies. A woman had plastic surgery after an accident. After a bout with amnesia, she finally returned to her family, but they were never really sure if it was her. This led to the creation of our family’s secret handshake. These days when one of us does or says something out of character, we use it in a humorous way as if to say “…Is it really you?..”

When Big A* was a little boy, I told him to remember “…It’s what you hear…” If I was not there to pick him up after school, he was not to leave with anyone unless they said the word “oreja” (the Spanish word for “ear”). When he was a teen, he knew he could always whisper our code word “despacio” (Spanish for “slowly”) when he wanted me to take it down a notch in front of his friends.

Throughout the years, Mr. Wiz* and I have unwittingly developed an entire communication system. Through facial expressions and eye movements, we can express ourselves in a clandestine manner, even in a crowded room. We can complement each other, ask if that’s what we’re really going to wear, agree to leave early or stay late, accept or decline an invitation on the spot or suggest that we not tell that story again.

Of course, all covert operations have their glitches. Once at an auction, my sudden sneeze was misinterpreted as a signal to hold up our paddle. Luckily, we were out-bid and the Picasso never joined our art collection. Likewise, innocent tapping of fingers on a table could be misconstrued as an emergency Morse Code message.

This combined with some made up words and an alpha/numeric system that my dad taught me as a little girl (whereby numbers 1 through 10 are replaced by letters) makes for techniques that rival CIA intelligence operations.

Though we have been approached and asked that we share this complex, intricate methodology with operatives around the world, we have decided to keep it between us as just another way for our little family to huddle together in our private club and smile as we celebrate what makes us unique.

 

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

 

Paper: Cutting to the Chase

photo paper

Good luck explaining Rock Paper Scissors to a millennial

Big A* and his cohorts looked puzzled. On a recent visit, I asked if anyone could use a file cabinet. We had an extra and thought someone might be interested. “…What do you use it for, Mrs. T? … asked one of our guests politely. As I started to explain that we keep files of all our important papers in it, I suddenly realized by their blank stares, that they had no use for this large metal contraption placed before them; millennials keep no paper. If they hold on to it at all, they scan it, take a photo of it, save it to a computer file or onto a disk.

I think they are missing out on a whole tactile experience. Technology has robbed them of such memorable experiences. There is always the excitement of choosing just the right notebook, then writing on the very first page. I’m never sure which I enjoy most; tearing open a letter that I’ve received or taking the time to send one. I can still remember how important I felt each time I would send my new European pen pal a letter on that special tissue like paper with the envelope that read “Airmail” in red and blue letters.

My prize collection of those free, small give away calendars at the Hallmark stores dates back to my teen years. Mention a year, any year and I can tell you exactly what I did each day. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent making paper airplanes or those folded puzzles that, when placed on your fingers, would tell your fortune (solely based on what you had just written on the corners). Remembering how I would while away the hours with my father and grandfather playing Hangman and Tic-tac-toe always makes me smile.

Just for fun, ask a millennial where their local library is and they will look at you quizzically. They do not know the giddiness felt when the bestselling book you are dying to read is sitting right on the shelf where it should be. Or, the feel of the book, with its shiny cover and crisp pages, as you open it to start reading, and the regret, as you finish the last page and reread the book jacket a few times, not willing to say goodbye to the characters as yet. Watching Mr. Wiz* take such pride in lining up his books from a favorite author in chronological order on our bookshelves makes me wonder if we will ever trade in our library cards for the somewhat sterile reality of online books.

Millennials are busy people. With no bookshelves to dust, no worries about running out of checks or whether they have the right wrapping paper for the occasion, they can rest on their laurels, work hard, play even harder and let their laptops do the labor. Unlike them, we may have to Band-Aid a few paper cuts once in a while, but that’s a small price to pay for the pleasure that only paper can bring.

 

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

The Bounty Hunter of Bad Customer Service

photo customer service

Around these parts, and to family and friends, I am known as “The Bounty Hunter of Bad Customer Service”. Just as a dog will not let go of his bone (come to think of it, I also have trouble releasing a half-eaten prime rib bone), I will chase you down with all that I’ve got.

It all started back when JC* was moving into a senior residence in Chicago. Many Excel spread sheets and visits later, we had chosen what we thought to be the best of the best, but things began to down spiral quickly. Unanticipated stress replaced excitement when I had to step in and take over for the moving coordinator, who seemed to lack any training in long distance moves. The lovely gesture of a sign on the apartment front door would have been much appreciated if it hadn’t read “Welcome Home, Gloria.” Worst of all, JC did not receive an invitation to the new resident birthday surf and turf luncheon. That snub was the final straw.

I did some research and found out that this senior residence was in negotiations to link their services with the hospital that I was working for. I called and made an appointment with both the director and customer service coordinator to discuss my mom’s disappointment. Dressed for success, I carried a brief case with the hospital name on it; a handy prop.

I was angry, but decided that the best approach would be to tug at their heart strings. I presented my case; I had faith in them, put my mom in their hands and their incompetence resulted in her feeling abandoned. I was prepared when they asked how they could repair the damage done. How about three limo rides at no charge (the residence had a limo available for hire) and dinner for four (mom and family) during lobster month at The Palm Restaurant? I produced a letter that I would email to them; all they had to do was copy and paste it onto their stationery.

At that point, I unleashed my secret weapon; I stopped talking, tilted my head slightly to one side and just looked at them; no amount of words can replace the discomfort of stone-cold silence. The letter was delivered to JC later that day. She did enjoy her new home for a while, until she called a family meeting, announced that the residents were too old and moved to a nearby condo.

Since then, with a combination of tenacity, a genteel manner, meticulous research and the silent treatment, I have been able to:

  • Enlist the help of the Department of Consumer Services in Chicago to track down a dead- beat contractor and obtain $12,000 in restitution.
  • Work with the University of Houston Law Center and receive free assistance in order to convince a corporation that payment in full for a storage locker was in their best interest due to an incorrect apartment floor plan.
  • Travel free with my family on the AVE, the high-speed train, from Barcelona to Madrid, Spain when our credit card concierge forgot to email the tickets to our hotel.
  • Convince the airlines why the receipts for the contents of my lost luggage were no longer available and shop for replacement belongings with the $500 they offered.
  • Enjoy a complimentary breakfast, lunch, dinner or hotel stay when the initial experience was not up to par.

Sometimes it’s important to take a stand. With a little effort, the frustration and disappointment you experienced can be resolved to your benefit. I can still see the smile on JC’s face when they tied on her lobster bib and when she told me to look out my window, then stood up and waved out the top of the limo as it cruised down Lake Shore Drive.

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

Lost in Culinary Crazes

photo food trends

Pasta caricatures of your dinner guests; out before it was ever in. 

“…Is there anything you don’t eat?..” That’s the question I always ask any first-time guests to my home. “…Well…,” she texted back…“I’m paleo, gluten-free, vegan, pesca-centric, tropical, raw, keto and equatorial…” I stood there, dumbfounded, when I received a second text from her. “…Only kidding, Sunshine, I eat everything!..”

My jokester friend made me realize something. When was it that I began to lose control of my culinary smarts? I always prided myself as a foodie, able to converse on all the cutting-edge trends, but lately, it seems as if I can’t keep up.

All along, I thought SCOBY was a cartoon character. The rubbery, brown amoeba like creature with bulging eyes and a mischievous grin would dart in and out of adventures in his homeland of Kombucha. Leave it to some millennials on line at Starbucks who took pity on me and explained that SCOBY is an acronym for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” which forms on top of kombucha tea, a fermented drink made of tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. Known for its health benefits, it’s been around for thousands of years. It’s rich in probiotics and is said to actually fight off some diseases.

I was caught off guard when I called for a reservation at a favorite restaurant and was told they were closed for a special sold out event. Their guests would be introduced to dark dining. All around the world restaurants are turning off their lights in the hopes that the removal of vision will enhance the other senses and increase gastronomic pleasure. At the end of the evening, night goggles off, I wonder if the waiters share stories of customers accidently eating off a neighbor’s plate, bending down to pick up a fallen napkin and realizing it’s not their lap they’ve placed it back on and navigating those crazy restroom runs.

Leave it to New Jersey to conjure up a union between unicorns and bagels. Purists everywhere are dumbfounded by The Bagel Nook’s introduction of the unicorn bagel, a blue, yellow and pink colored bagel served with cotton candy cream cheese, then dusted with unicorn sparkle dust. Speaking as a Texas resident, I shudder to think what the introduction of anything unicorn like might be in the Lone Star State. Picture thick porterhouse steaks sizzling on a large barbecue grill as flames shoot into the air. A Willie Nelson song plays softly in the background, cold beers have been passed around and it’s the kind of day to put your feet up (cowboy boots on) and relax. Are you going to be the one to suggest a sprinkle of unicorn sparkle dust on the rare hunks of beef? I rest my case.

Any way you slice it, food trends will always keep thrusting themselves into the limelight, hoping at the very least, for their 15 minutes of fame until they fade away. The Jell-O salad jiggled its way onto everyone’s table until sneaky cooks started hiding yesterday’s leftovers in it. Fondue warmed our hearts until double dippers gave us concern for germs. All we can do is open our mouths, bite the bullet and swallow hard; soon we’ll be on to yet another version of good taste.