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 ten, 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, two-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 backwards, 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 okay 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 towards 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 wellbeing 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 Backwards 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 backwards 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 forty-fifth 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.

The Life He Chose: A Father’s Day Tribute in Prose

Photo Fathers Day

Oh, what a novel your life would be
Filled with drama, intrigue and romance
An instant best seller you couldn’t put down
About dreams, daring and chance

Our swashbuckling hero is born in Hell’s Kitchen
Where only the strong can stand the heat
Tough and daring, devil may-caring
His education was life on the street

He scrapped and fought, sold on streets what he’d bought
Living hard, playing hard with his money
‘Til a war came upon us, this Latin Adonis
Joined the army to be all he could be

The lessons learned here; cold, raw, full of fear
Shaped the spirited boy into a man
In an Infantry Irish with only one wish
To make it home and create a plan

The man of the hour, filled with rage, but no power
Was in search of who he was in his life
Who’d think that by chance, after asking her to dance
That beautiful blonde would become his wife

So, now full of dreams (the hero with schemes)
The couple set forth together
She provides inspiration, he- sheer determination
There’s no port in the storm they can’t weather

With street education and blind dedication
His goal not to follow, but lead
Oh, wonderful joy; three girls and a boy
Now, his ego and six mouths to feed!

From your soul way down deep, when you can’t sleep
Comes a voice of both terror and power
Telling you to pursue it, you know you can do it
This is your shining hour

He had no choice, he succumbed to that voice
And our leading man went from rags to riches
But, it’s that lost Latin boy that’s brought others such joy
Helping others to achieve their wishes

 

Tea for Two and Other Heart Warming Rituals

Photo Tea

A lamp chop, a cup of tea and the sound of a tea kettle all have a kind of Pavlovian effect on me.

Beginning at age 4, I would spend time with my grandmother, enjoying my favorite lunch: a baby lamb chop, tiny baked potato and spinach sautéed with garlic (no PB&J for the first- born child). Then, at around 3pm, she would take out the good china tea cups (I had a special tiny size all my own) and make us a cup of tea. Sometimes she would take the time to serve from a teapot. We would sit across from each other at her dining room table and chat. It always made me feel very grown up and very elegant.

The ritual has continued to this day. My tea partners (you know who you are) and I enjoy a special closeness over that steaming cup. The kettle is filled, our favorite cups are chosen, the tea bag (still always Lipton) enters the cup and we eagerly anticipate the screeching of the kettle. The brew steeps for 3 minutes (yes, I time it). Milk or sugar? I add just enough milk to produce a caramel color and a dot of sugar that is similar to the waving of a bottle of Vermouth over a martini. Now, we can choose where we’ll sit and delight in each other’s company.

So, what is the difference between a habit, a custom, a ritual and a tradition? My grandmother began the daily routine of enjoying a cup of tea each afternoon (a habit). Soon, it became a practice (a custom). Once it was observed and repeated regularly, it graduated to a ritual. Passing it on to subsequent generations made it a tradition.

Here are some of my family rituals that I’m hoping will someday find their way to becoming traditions:

– The secret handshake, created after watching a late-night movie whereby the heroine suffered amnesia, was unrecognizable after an accident and her family was unsure if it was truly her.

– Spanish buzz words for “chill out”, and “not now”.

– Scrabble games.

– The morning shower message: a special occasion is immortalized in words, written on the shower wall with shaving cream (until the water is turned on).

– Preparing our favorite Latin foods at holiday time: Paella (chicken and shellfish with rice flavored with chicken broth, seafood broth and saffron), Arroz con Gandules (spareribs and garbanzo beans with rice flavored with beef broth and saffron) and Pasteles (pork-stuffed dough made from plantains and root vegetables). The youngest helper always adds the green olive to the finished product and the least culinary-capable is relegated to cutting the string that ties up the finished product.Te

There’s something very comforting about repeating an act (or series of acts) in a set, precise manner. I particularly enjoy the accuracy and the detail of the process. Looking forward to these little ceremonies of life can be so uplifting.

Our lives are full, time flies by and family and friends may not live close, but we can delight in the fact that we took the time to create one special moment. Each time it is celebrated, we’ll know that we were the ones that gathered up a small portion of our lives, held it close and wrapped it into an extraordinary gift that can be reopened over and over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Acronyms: An Abbreviated Analysis

Photo FOMO

You know who you are. You are at a music concert and find yourself tapping your foot to the music of the group that you just found out will be appearing next month. As you leave an event, you ask when next year’s dates will be announced.

FOMO is an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. Its origins are connected to social media and the anxiety that comes from your perception of how you are measuring up to others. Its negative connotations are said to derive from unhappiness and the continuous angst and regret the sufferer develops in all walks of their lives.

Even though this acronym wasn’t added to the Oxford English Dictionary until 2013, we all know that a form of it was in full swing years prior. Back then, we never thought about announcing to the world what we were doing, we just wanted to be doing it. It’s FOMO light, leaning more towards YOLO (You Only Live Once). Yes, my friends, I have come to the conclusion that we are LOBOs (Love of Being Out).

My parents have been my muse in all things LOBO. I remember them always dressing up and going out on the town with a big group of friends, not wanting to miss out on a New York Times reviewed restaurant, a Broadway show or a place to dance. My Dad took voice lessons, learning to sing with an orchestra, a la Frank Sinatra, while JC*was always planning her next trip. When she accompanied a friend’s daughter to the Dominican Republic for a medical treatment on a week’s notice and accepted a last-minute trip to Paris (alone!) from the travel agency she worked for, it made me wonder if she carried her passport in her handbag at all times, just in case.

LOBOs gravitate toward like-minded people who share their zest for life. There are no feelings of competition; rather, there is genuine happiness for a fellow LOBO’s adventures. The sharing of exploits develops into a symbiotic relationship whereby one LOBO’s quests fuels the other’s desire and imagination for more of their own.

Both FOMOs and LOBOs share in the pride of knowing that their social calendars are their mini life journals, reminding them of people, places and events. They both enjoy the feeling of hopping through life as if on a pogo stick, bouncing from one experience to another. But, that’s where the similarities end.

LOBOs are not fearful; they are proud warriors of life’s ups and downs and know that every day is a gift. They are confident in their own skin and set a great example for FOMOs everywhere, reminding them that the only reason their peers were able to develop personal computer technology in their parents’ empty garages (think Apple) was because their parents were out and about on another adventure.

 

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

A Mother’s Day Bouquet of Insights

Photo Mothers Day

Dear Mom,

I realized that you were smart when I was unsure of Santa Claus and you sat me down and asked me if I truly believed that the entire U.S. Postal Service had time to pretend (still has me thinking).

I realized you were savvy when you said you loved avocadoes at my 6th grade Home Economics Mexican Luncheon (back then, no one knew what they were).

I realized you were cosmopolitan when, in high school, you took me to New York City and knew your way around. We went to Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side and I remember deciding that day that I would be an “uptown girl” rather than a hippie.

I realized you were my mentor when, much to the dismay of my great aunts, you suggested that a career in business, rather than teaching, better suited my personality. That one suggestion changed my life.

I realized you were fashionable when I’d see you looking great each day, dressed up and make up on, even when you were going out to do errands. You always told me “…If you’ve got it, flaunt it…”

I realized that you were sophisticated when I noticed that you could initiate a conversation with anyone you were introduced to. You are aware of everything around you and have a sense of adventure, a love of travel and that spark, that spunk that makes people want to be around you.

I realized that you were my hero when I would see you direct our family with a wonderful sense of humor and grace through life’s ups and downs. Knowing all there is to know about each of us, you have a way of gently suggesting, rather than pushing or scolding.

I realized that you were a great mother when I became a mother myself and could see just what it took to help a child develop, learn and grow.

I realized that you were my best girlfriend when I knew that you were someone that I really loved spending time with.

Happy Mother’s Day!