The Nose Knows

Photo Sneeze

Bless you! Gesundeit! Last evening, she suffered another uncontrollable burst of sneezing during dinner and almost fell off her chair. All eyes were upon her as she excused herself from the table. We all followed the sound of the rapid fire “achoos,” as she made her way to the ladies’ room. I trailed behind at a reasonable distance and checked to make sure she was OK.

I thought she was kidding when she said she suffered from snatiation, a combination of the words sneeze and satiation. It’s a lighthearted attempt to coin a medical condition actually called stomach sneeze reflex, which is characterized by sneezing when the stomach is full.

Though there is no known cure, eating smaller meals and/or eating slowly may relieve the symptoms. It is likely to be genetic and does not cause any other health problems. I assured her that there was no need to be embarrassed. Would she rather be tapped on the shoulder while dining and reminded out loud that bathing suit season was just around the corner? I suggested she think of it as her own personal health consultant traveling with her 24/7.

This made me wonder; what would happen if our body’s reflexes continued to monitor our shortcomings?

Picture a world where every time you gossiped, you got a case of the hiccups. Baffled, the medical community would search for an explanation to justify the increasing cases of hicabber (a blend of the words hiccup and blabber). Starbucks stock would plummet as hiccupping women around the world, who normally gathered to share some indiscreet conversation over a latte, wreaked havoc on unknowing customers.

Companies of every size would follow suit as major corporations began a campaign of posting a single paper bag in conspicuous places, a subtle reminder that, though considered a hiccup remedy, at that point the damage will have been done. With nothing to do but actually work, this one simple act would surge workplace productivity to an all-time high.

Imagine incessant blinking brought about by anger. Though blander, a merge of the words blink and dander (losing one’s temper), would initially be thought of as just another means to further hostility in today’s world, the blinking component of this phenomenon could actually temper the act of feeling infuriated. Road rage became nothing more than a blinking contest. In some cases, a blink was mistaken for a wink and the flutter of eyelids led to a first date.

According to Smithsonianmagazine.org, studies have shown that we blink at predictable moments in an attempt to gather thoughts and focus attention on the world around us. A few moments of mental resting might be what we required all along to alleviate aggression.

I know what you’re thinking and yes, there is the possibility of experiencing snatiation, hicabber and blander all at once, but don’t think of them as symbols of shame. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne’s character, Hester, comes to realize that the “A” initially intended to mark her as an adulterer eventually stood for “Able” and became a powerful symbol of identity that helped her navigate the world.

 

 

 

 

 

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Unfurling My Curls

Photo Unfurling My CurlsBeing a little girl with curly hair had its perks. I could launch into a medley of ShirleyTemple songs and tap dance my way to a later bedtime, but as I grew up I became tangled in its complexities.

My unruly curls and I were soon taken to my Titi Olga’s beauty salon for a consultation (Titi is an affectionate term for aunt, in Spanish). Located in the basement of her home, it most probably was being run without a license. Possibly affected by the strong odor of the chemical solutions, JC* lost all control of the situation and the decision was made to trust the illegal professional to give me a permanent. I left there with a lollipop and a hair style that gave new meaning to Curly Top, one of Shirley Temple’s hit movies.

As a teenager, the Beach Boys music reminded me that my curls were interfering with my goal of long, blonde, straight hair and living in California. Luckily, I had read in a teen magazine that I could straighten my hair on my own. The project required an ironing board, an iron and one important item that I had forgotten about: the towel that goes between the iron and the hair. It was a miracle that JC walked into the laundry room just at the right moment and shrieked, saving me from a 911 experience that would, no doubt, still be the talk of the police locker room today.

There was another article in that same teen magazine (they went bankrupt soon after) that said to set your hair with juice cans, the larger diameter helping to straighten the hair. Though my younger siblings were apprehensive at first, the little entrepreneurs set up shop, charging their friends 25 cents to view their alien older sister in her native habitat. And, when I awoke one morning, screaming, as I discovered that you could read the word “Tropicana” in bold letters across my rolled hair, those little devils raised the admission price to 50 cents.

As if out of a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, I unexpectedly experienced life curl free when I became pregnant. It wasn’t pretty. My mind raced through the twists and turns of a life without those rowdy ringlets and I swore on my bubble hair dryer that if my curls somehow returned, I would never brush them off as an annoyance again.

In an ironic turn of events, Big A* was born with a bald little head and my curls miraculously returned, crowning my head, once again, with those wild twirls of hair that were and are the root of who I am.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The King of Queens

Photo King of Queens

Ask anyone and they will tell you that I was the one to coin that phrase years before the popular TV show. My dad not only owned a construction company in Queens, a borough of Manhattan, he spoke of it as if it were his magical kingdom.

Every morning (sometimes seven days a week), he would leave the house before we got up and regale us with fascinating facts and stories when he’d arrive home. The reason that the fruits and vegetables from Queens were larger than any we’d ever seen was because the vacant lots they were grown in contained special soil. While he couldn’t make his way around a country road, he knew of a network of back alleys which could magically transport him to any Queens destination in half the time.

Though he only stood 5 feet 6 inches, he lived life large. He had a powerful presence that was not lost on any of the Queens store or restaurant owners. When he walked into an establishment, there was always a ruffle of excitement as they welcomed Mr. Frank and he delighted in that.

Wonderful marketer that he was, he noticed that the demographics in his area were changing. Many of the Queens homeowners were now widows who were a bit fearful of dealing with rough, tough and possibly unscrupulous contractors. That gave him the idea to create the persona of “The Gentleman Roofer.” His new Yellow Pages ad and business cards featured a photo of him in a bowler hat and tuxedo. When customers would ask if the Gentleman Roofer would be wearing his hat, he started to carry plastic ones in his trunk.

The photo shoot for the new marketing campaign was created in my parent’s living room. Initially, an argument ensued when my dad, in a hurry, insisted on just wearing the tuxedo jacket along with his boxer shorts, reasoning that the photo would be taken from the waist up. With JC* as the photographer (and no experience in this field of endeavor), what happened next was another Lucy and Desi moment. For years, those outtakes were the highlight of every family get together. We’d laugh until we cried at the photos of my dad yelling in each photo as JC repeatedly took crooked images of him in his combination tuxedo/underwear outfit.

Once he visited your home to give you a quote was when the magic happened. In five minutes, he would size you up. If you lived alone, he would show you family photos, tell you about his voice lessons and leave you a tape of him singing Frank Sinatra tunes. If you were aggressive and started haggling about pricing, he would suggest another area contractor. They were not as good as his company, but there might be a better rapport. This usually led to that customer calling, begging for another chance (and paying more for the privilege)

For months after he died, I would call his company phone number at night just to hear his robust voice on the message and smile. I knew that the new owner would eventually update it, but I doubted that anyone could match his Christmas message. Recorded over 50 times until perfect, it featured JC singing “Jingle Bells” softly in the background (again, with no experience in this field of endeavor) and my dad reminding you that you will have a happier holiday if you call the Gentleman Roofer for an appointment.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

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

 

How Our New Home Found Us

Photo How Are Home Found Us

We love you, dear Austin and didn’t want to leave
But, home prices and no zoning had led us to believe

Our horizons should broaden, our focus widen for sure
Would any other Texas city have your allure?

So, with pen, paper and a positive stance
We compiled our wish list and then by chance

A vibrant, new friend gave us food for thought
As she regaled us with tales of the home she’d just bought

It was all she had dreamed of, all she would desire
And she was able to get in just under the wire

In her late 50s, she met the 55+ regulation
Now she’s the poster child for Sun City and our new inspiration

She’s swimming, she’s golfing, she’s dancing and that’s not all
She’s joined the hiking club, the Spanish club and is playing pickle ball

The amenities intrigued us and as her new friends were introduced
We wondered; are they actors and are we being seduced?

We pondered, we contemplated and finally our instincts we did obey
So, lookout Sun City, we’re heading your way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random Acts of Kindness Sandwiched Together

Photo Random Acts Kindness

It had been 17 years since they had last encountered each other. From the very beginning, it was a volatile relationship. They did not bring out the best in each other. Her hope was that their association might terminate forever, but that was not to be.

My aunt knew it before the doctors did. When she told them that her Cancer had returned, they seemed taken aback. She felt as if her right breast was trying to tell her something. At first, she tried to ignore the constant feeling of something pulling inside her, but it became too hard to ignore.

She closed her eyes as the doctor spoke and all those words that she hoped she might never hear again came surging back into her mind: sonogram, tumor, biopsy. It was malignant, stage 1, but, once again, something deep inside her told her to have a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy. As it turned out, this eradicated a string of Cancer cells that were lurking behind the scenes. The doctor praised her for being proactive; she had not only found her Cancer, she had also saved her own life.

When you are ill, you can let yourself wallow in a bubble of get well cards, doctor visits and the awkward smiles of visitors who fumble for the right thing to say, but my aunt decided that she would, instead, gather herself up in her faith and not be afraid.

For the next 28 days at 3:30 p.m. each afternoon she would travel to the hospital for radiation therapy. The 10 minutes went by quickly and she mastered the drill: gown on, lie down, eyes closed, head left, angles set, lights on, panel activated, imagine the high doses of energy killing off the tumor cells as if it were a video game, get up, get dressed, repeat.

On day 29, she woke up and decided that she needed to do something special for the wonderful staff that had helped her through her ordeal. She had expected a more clinical atmosphere and not the daily welcome hugs, the smiles and the small talk that came with her 10 minutes a day. How many times did they repeat this patient scenario in the course of a day?

She didn’t care if her family thought she was going overboard, a box of candy or a tin of cookies wouldn’t do; she would cater a lunch for the entire staff. To this day, she does not know why she bypassed the restaurant she intended to enter and walked into another one down the street instead. The manager had to be called when she noted that, instead of paying with a credit card, she intended to pay cash when she returned to pick up the lunch order for 15 later that day.

Usually not considered outspoken, her arduous journey thus far had toughened her up a bit and she vowed not to leave without placing her order, credit card or not. She gave the manager the short story of her last 28 days and noticed his demeanor change immediately. In a soft voice, this big man, who seemed a bit stern around the edges just a minute ago, shared his story. As the words poured out of him as to how his wife had died of breast cancer, they embraced. Then, he looked into my aunt’s eyes soulfully and said “…You must promise me that you will not refuse what I am going to do right now…”

They argued for a few minutes, she stating that as a business man, he needed to be more practical, he affirming that it was his pleasure to pay for the entire lunch order. In the end, he won. She thanked him a hundred times and gave him two more hugs and kisses. He sat in the back room for a while after she had gone, trying to regain his composure from what had not been a typical morning.

The 28 days were a blur to her and, for now, she forgot about everything she had been through. The staff was overwhelmed by her generosity and together they enjoyed the lunch and the camaraderie.

Little by little, constant talk of her health gave way to the normalcy of life. What’s for dinner? What are the grandchildren up to? She relished those ordinary parts of life that now seemed so important and meaningful.

The bone chilling numbness felt when surprised by an unwelcome twist of fate, the warmth of a guardian angel’s guidance, the bright glow of kindness; from time to time, she would think about how a devastating diagnosis could bring about such a beautiful ending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regrets

Photo Regret

I picture them as microscopic annoyances with arms and legs. Their sardonic grin and facial features make you wonder if they are any relation to the Grinch. In military formation, they strive to locate access to any route possible in order to achieve their goal; to get under your skin. You’d be better off having thousands of these invaders with endless time on their hands tackle you on pogo sticks than what you are feeling right now. It’s an endless loop of what ifs, how comes and whys that relentlessly keep poking at you.

Now that they have you where they want you, they regroup and continue their campaign. This is the clandestine location that you do not want them to invade at any cost; inside your head. Once they make camp there, you are prisoner to a persistent voice that repeats a mantra that is able to continue regardless of time and location. If you’ve ever pressed your tongue against a sore tooth repeatedly, even though you know it will be hurt, you know that feeling of not being able to let go. This is it.

According to Psychology Today: “…Studies have shown that regret is the most common emotion people mention as part of their daily lives. Fortunately, rewriting history in our heads, rather than playing the cards in our hands can also have some positive aspects to it. Using past mistakes as a growth opportunity, analyzing whether or not it was our fault and consoling ourselves that it could have been worse will train us to regret less and better…”

In time, you realize that you are your own Commander and you begin to feel a sense of power. You can rise up and counterattack, casting out all those regrets the same way they came in. Now engaged, your mind has outmaneuvered your remorse.

As Henry David Thoreau advised: “…Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” To live afresh is to be morally born again…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Considering the Avant-garde

Photo Avante garde

It was 3 a.m. and I was sitting up in bed eating a banana when Mr. Wiz* returned from the bathroom. “…What are you doing?..” he asked with concern. “…Just something for personal reasons…” I responded, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. He knew, from previous experience, not to question any of my more unusual habits and decided it was in his best interest to just go back to sleep.

Between you and me, a banana is an almost immediate cure for heartburn. That or one-half teaspoon of mustard. I have more where that came from. The day I purchased a book about folk remedies was the day that my family sensed a shift in the usually well-hidden, quirky side of my personality.

They see it as a blending of natural medicine, folk remedies and old wive’s tales in a big witch’s caldron until it begins to ooze out of the top and engulf anyone brave enough to still be in its path. But, then I remind them about eating an apple a day or a bowl of chicken soup when ill and they are pacified…for the moment.

In the spirit of keeping Austin weird (the city’s slogan), since moving here, I pride myself on keeping up my polka dot collection, my oddities collection and now I find that I am also becoming the keeper of the more unusual potions, elixirs and remedies that I have come across.

Currently, I am singlehandedly taking on the cosmetic industry with a campaign to experiment with some do it yourself, at home remedies as part of my beauty regimen. Without frightening Mr. Wiz (who, I’m sure, is curious as to just what is taking place behind that closed bathroom door), let’s just say that apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil are not just for salads anymore, Moroccan Argan oil has other uses than as a dip for bread and facial exercises are the new face lifts. I’ve said too much, but you get the idea.

Little by little, I seem to be winning over my family as they hint for a possible solution to a current malady they are experiencing. Recent suggestions have taken toothpaste, Greek yogurt and duct tape out of their respective comfort zones and into an unknown realm.

Who knows? If we can naturally eradicate those little ailments that get under our skin, it might just remind us to occasionally try thinking out of the box and consider the unconventional alternative.

 

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