Tell Your Worries to Take a Hike (Literally)

Photo Take a Hike

Mud; that’s all I remember about my first hiking experience. It was not a pleasant one (read “Coming Clean on a Dirty Little Secret: My First Hike Fiasco”). That’s the beauty of being a late bloomer; being just a tad behind the curve allows me the opportunity to watch and learn from others.

Years later, when Mr. Wiz* invited me to join him on the Camino, I had a decision to make. Do I stay behind, afraid to try something out of my comfort zone? Or, do I join him on this adventure and walk 500 miles through Spain? After some research, I decided that if pilgrims had been walking the Way of Saint James to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela (where tradition has it that his remains are buried) since medieval times, this was something not to miss.

I still remember the day the REI salesperson tied me into my first pair of hiking boots. As I stood at the top of that mountain, I felt positively giddy; no matter that it was the four-foot plastic mountain in the middle of the shoe department.

Walking for 33 days changes you; with nothing to be concerned about except your immediate surroundings, life slows down. It’s amazing what can go on while your feet are moving. Spending hours watching them maneuver rocky paths cleans out all those cobwebs in your brain. Sharing stories and feelings with someone you’ve just met exhilarates you. Walking in silence is meditation in motion.

The sounds of rustling leaves, rushing water or a bird singing, the feeling that comes from taking a big deep breath on a cool day and that wonderful ache you feel from pushing your body just a little bit more; this is Mother Nature’s way of putting her arms around you.

Too much wild life can take its toll. Let’s try to balance the party animal in us all with some tranquility. Being down to earth rewards us with the mental, spiritual and physical aspects of life that we might have missed out on, had we not stopped to smell the roses.

So, when all else fails, get out there and walk! Worries and stress are no match for flora and fauna. Uncomplicate those complications, hop over those hurdles, break down those barriers; it’s amazing how solutions can miraculously appear if you just let your feet lead the way and take one step at a time.

 

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

 

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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.

 

Questioning the Quirky

Photo Questioning th Quirky

Designer toast for breakfast anyone?

Once in a while, I like to take the time to let my mind wander and wonder about all those little things that most pay no attention to. As guilty pleasures go, it’s also very cathartic; the cobwebs seem to disappear from the corners of my brain. It’s the equivalent of swishing mouthwash and that refreshing minty taste you’re left with. Here are my some of my most recent ponderings:

-Why do we sing “Rock a Bye Baby” to infants when we know perfectly well our soothing voices will soon croon the last stanza that inevitably leads to a 911 call?

-A popular new business has sprung up where you create a DIY project while enjoying cocktails. If I didn’t have any artistic ability before I entered, how will libations help my creations?

-Why do airline seats recline if reclining them can lead to airplane rage (similar to road rage, but without the foot pedals and steering wheel)?

-Has anyone actually been arrested for removing the tag off their mattress? If so, are they assigned to a special area of prison, along with the anglers who purchased the fish they entered in the bass fishing competition (a real thing)?

-Did Dr. Seuss have anything to do with the naming of Pflugerville, Texas? Every time I pass the sign for the exit on the highway, I smile to myself and wonder: are the Pflugers in Pflugerville all filled with glee to realize their town is a source of Seuss imagery?

-Does toast that pops out of a $650 Dolce and Gabbana toaster taste any better? Rumor has it that the toaster’s heating coils will not accept a slice of plain, white bread. Hurry to Neiman Marcus (aka “Needless Markup”) while supplies last and do plan to name drop: “…Sorry I’m late, but I had to polish my $650 Dolce and Gabbana toaster with mink oil…”

Sometimes it’s not a bad idea to take the road less traveled, stop and smell the roses, give your mind a well-deserved rest and not be too quick to disregard the quirky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egging Yourself on: Is it All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

Photo Egging Yourself On

“…How many times around is that? …” Every Saturday, Gus, the maintenance man, would stop by and say hello, fascinated at my routine of bicycle riding around the perimeter of the giant, empty parking lot at a nearby government building.

While many of my friends are cyclists and think nothing of a 50 mile day ride, I am content to be a bike rider, safely tooling around my sheltered environment. This decision comes with the confidence that I know myself well enough to understand the difference between motivation, persuasion and being sensible.

If we can egg someone on, don’t we also have the ability to egg ourselves on? When should we push ourselves and when should we be prudent?

Egging someone on means to incite, urge or provoke. The term comes from the old Norse word “eggia” which means “to edge” and has nothing to do with hen’s eggs. Or, does it? Let’s examine the types of personal decisions that can change the course of our lives:

Half-Baked
When combined with spontaneity, can produce hazardous consequences.
Examples: sky diving in a Third World country, getting a tattoo in the same Third World country, clown college

Scrambled
A jumbled combination of longing, jealousy, impulse and willpower (lack of).
Examples: plastic surgery for pouty lips, skateboarding lessons, the 10 peas a day miracle diet

Hard-boiled
An analytical approach involving pros and cons, right and wrong, practicality and objectives resulting in a meticulously executed conclusion.
Examples: college, 401Ks, wedding planners

Come out of your shell, get to know your inner self and together decide the path that’s right for you. Remember, a life without objectives is like an egg without salt.

 

 

 

 

Who Put the Multi in Tasking?   

   Photo Multi Task

At the gym the other day, I overheard two women talking about taking some classes together and hoping that their line dance and conversational Italian language classes wouldn’t conflict. “…Too bad you couldn’t take them at the same time…,” I joked, with a mental picture of them in the throes of some intricate foot work and turns while repeating out loud “…One, two three, please, thank you, where is the bathroom? …” in Italian. “…That’s a great idea! …,” they both agreed as they exited. I tried to dress quickly, catch up with them and tell them I was kidding, but they were already gone.

Picture the working mom, breastfeeding with a spoon in her teeth, as she stirs tonight’s healthy dinner simmering on the stove, listens to the news and sends one more email while her three-year-old sits at her feet, using her legs as a mountain road for his Matchbox cars.

It seems as if we no longer can do one thing at a time. We squeeze all we can into each day, never considering whether each task is getting their fair share of our attention. Just like the overstimulated baby that cries out in distress, we sometimes need to be slowly rocked back into tranquility, so those big, bad to-do lists won’t huff and puff and blow us down.

Life is chaotic. Things need to get done; responsibilities are requisite and errands are inevitable, but what if we took a moment to consider how some slight adjustments might alter our everyday life? Going about the day with a Zen attitude makes us more aware of the present moment. Here are some small changes we can try that will reap big rewards:

  • Focus! Try accomplishing one activity at a time and concentrate on the task.
  • Inhale and exhale! Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself to slow down.
  • Let go! Minimize your closet, your to-do list, your worries and keep it simple.
  • Laugh! Seek out the silly side of life.
  • Be quiet! Take a walk, turn off the car radio and enjoy the silence.
  • Move it! Strive for stillness with yoga, clear your head with a run or try anything in between.
  • Be solo! Savor some alone time, whether you are an early bird or a night owl.

Back in the day, you could find me running to catch the 156 bus after a 10-hour workday. Flamenco classes were now added to my growing list of musts. Under my seat, I would practice my footwork while humming the music, eating an apple and sending just one more email. Now I can see why the seat next to me always seemed to remain empty.

The next morning, rather than attend an important business meeting, I found myself in my doctor’s office having an emergency EKG. When my chest pain was diagnosed as a pulled muscle, I hugged my doctor and thanked her. She reminded me that she had nothing to do with the diagnosis, put her hands on my shoulders and said “… I have 2 words for you: slow down! …”

I admit there may have been times in the past when I had toyed with the idea of taking a computer class in a foreign language I was not at all familiar with, hoping to learn both in half the time. Nowadays, I can still task with the best of them, but I have realized that the only “multi” I should be focusing on is a multivitamin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love, Malia Rae, Heartist

Photo Malia 2

“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” WB Yeates

Discovering hearts all-around her; it’s not the thread that Malia Rae intentionally set out to weave through her life, but it makes perfect sense in hindsight. A formally educated photographer, she was led on a different course than her original plan.

For years, Rae called Chicago, Illinois, her home. The cold weather never ruined her sunny disposition until it intermingled with a love lost. She sought refuge in Austin, Texas, when friends opened their arms to her.

Perhaps her transformation could have happened in any city, but there is that vibe in Austin that seems to make it distinctive from other places; it’s so welcoming, approachable, artsy and cool (even when the temperature spikes). This weird, wonderful city seemed like a different country altogether to her and she blossomed there.

This was the point where that one decision would impact her for years to come. Head held high, would she let her spirit soar, follow that inner voice, explore the unknown and start anew? Resilience won out over complacency and she buoyantly embarked on a mission to heal herself.

What you look for in life, you find; Rae says she remembers the concept struck a deep cord within her and she set out on a search as if her life depended on it. Drawn to nature, she would spend hours exploring. Three months later, she was still waking at sunrise, exploring beaches and walking in the woods. Then it happened; a rock, a leaf, a cloud – all in the shape of a heart. For a moment she wondered; had they always been in plain sight or were they figments of her imagination? Luckily, her ever present companion, her camera, was there to serve as her witness.

As she so poignantly explains it: “…Eventually, nature responded to my desperate calls with an abundance of love, manifesting itself in the symbolic shape of a heart. I find it fascinating that the obstacles in our path can be fuel for the gift that we give back to the world. In this work, I am learning to turn betrayal into trust, mold heartbreak into love, and transmute depression into passion and purpose. In my quest, I have also found that I am not alone. In my art, and in my life, I want to create a connection with other hearts and share the love…”

Cultivated from the depths of her soul-searching journey, it’s easy to see why her company, My SoulTribe, resonates with anyone that it touches; a tear, a smile, a sigh being the ultimate compliment. Was Mother Nature waiting for her all along? Or, did those hearts magically appear as a reminder of the power of tenderness, affection and devotion? No two are alike, yet they share the ability in making you feel as if someone is wrapping their arms around you.

You will still find Rae up at sunrise, searching nature for more signs of abounding love. Her journey continues as each message revitalizes her. During a recent trip to Michigan, she couldn’t help but smile when she happened to glance at the hearts on the Virginia license plate of her rental car plate that read “…Virginia is for Lovers…”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Photo Malia 1

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Tech Weenie

photo intervention

The intervention took place on Jan. 19, 2019. A segment of The Today Show featuring two bloggers had just ended, when JC* turned to me and said “…You’ve got what it takes. That should have been you on the show…” Mr. Wiz* chimed in and mentioned that because I am not on social media, my chances for that opportunity would be limited. Once JC was brought up to speed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, she was more determined than ever to convince me that I needed to stop over thinking and start doing. Mr. Wiz concurred, secretly happy that my phobia was finally out in the open and topic for conversation.

Memories of my high school years flashed before me, when JC would help me to circumvent my reluctance to try anything new until I was able to analyze it thoroughly. She’d stand outside each store in the mall, egging me on until I was hired for my first part time job. She never said that I shouldn’t be a flight attendant or a teacher, but mentioned that I had talents that might steer me in a different direction. That and the suggestion that I take a summer job as a waitress in preparation for some of my airline duties and consider my patience levels with a class of children made me rethink my career path.

Interventions are never comfortable. Being confronted by my two biggest fans and supporters, I could see that I was in denial. Part of me knew that I had to take that big leap to be successful, while my stubborn side was convinced that I could do it my way, not realizing that only Frank Sinatra had that luxury.

This became cause for introspection. Was it fear of failure or fear of success that was holding  me back? If I could positive think myself into so many successful situations, why not this one? Yes, I knew what had to be done. I would remind myself that if I was able to master so many assorted computer skills in times past, why would I let it intimidate me now? I reassured myself that my concern about the extra time it would take to achieve social media success could be side stepped by one touch of my alarm to an earlier wake up time. It was time to get my moxie back on.

Now that I’ve officially made myself accountable by confessing my shortcomings and stating my goals, there’s nothing to do, but get going. But, before I do, I’m going to take a moment, close my eyes and imagine myself sitting across from Savannah and Hoda, charming them with my witty banter and not looking the worse for wear due to the compulsory early morning wake-up call for all Today Show guests. And, to all you Facebook, Instagram and Twitter enthusiasts out there, I’ll see you on the other side.

 

*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.