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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next Stop: La-La Land

Photo La La Land

It’s time for a change. I’m packing up and heading to La-La Land, defined as “the dreamlike mental state which disengages us from the harsh realities of life”.

Every now and again, we need to languish in our own form of tranquility, that indulgence that lulls us into a state of bliss. It can be as lavish as a tropical vacation or as simple as a bubble bath. It’s our own personal whistle that blows inside of us when we’ve had enough and need a break.

What’s really bothering us?  Is it the distressing news constantly being reported or the fact that we’ve neglected to listen to any music recently? Is it the ever-present intrusion of social media in our lives or annoyance at our lack of discipline to turn it off once in a while? Is it the demands on us as spouses, parents and children or the feelings of joy and gratitude that we forget to think about? When we feel an unsteadiness on the balancing act we face each day, it’s time to get on the La-La Land train.

In order to get the full effect, you need to surrender. A quick walk through the park, mumbling to yourself while you recite your to-do list will not cut it. Some say that a nap (or just getting into bed with the covers over your head) is tailor-made as a kick starter. A long run or an intense workout might do the trick. Or, there’s shopping; the sound of the hangers as they glide on the rod have been known to invoke a trance-like state. How about dining out? You and your lobster can become one, as you delve into every nook and cranny. Yoga and meditation do not involve lobster, but also might work. Whatever you choose, really let yourself go and when you return, you will feel as good as new.

I envision my La-La Land as the place where my Christmas Eves look like the cover of the Lord and Taylor Christmas catalog: everyone is dressed in formal attire, gathered around a baby grand piano, rather than the year that we headed home from visiting family with a sick child, a cancelled flight, lost luggage and a car in the parking lot that wouldn’t start. How do you visualize your La-La Land?

Transport yourself, make your life journey a bit more lightweight, and remember to save a seat for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Perils of a Perfectionist

 

Photo Ducks 2

One quick glance around each room and I can size up what needs to be done. The pictures on the wall are a bit crooked and the pillows are not aligned correctly on the sofa in the living room. The chairs around the dining table are not pushed in at the same depth. In the kitchen, the spices are not in alphabetical order and the candles are not standing straight up in their holders. Just when I roll my sleeves up, intending to get to work, Mr. Wiz* takes me over to the side, puts his hands on my shoulders and reminds me that I am on a Parade of Homes model house tour.

Sometimes it’s great to have a keen eye for detail and a determination to always strive for excellence and sometimes it’s a pain in my (hopefully physically fit?) posterior. Luckily for me, I was blessed with a combination of both my parents’ personality traits. My Dad’s obsessive, work ethic and drive for success, along with JC’s* easy going, go with the flow attitude, has kept me from falling off the “obsessive, compulsive cliff”.

Early on in life, I realized that I would need to take control of my tendencies. Riding that bucking bronco of flawlessness, I had to learn to lasso that energy into a healthy focus. Being aware of who I am and actually cultivating a relationship with myself made the difference. It gave me a comfort level that the rest of the world did not see. How could I possibly begin to exude confidence if I didn’t like myself? In time, I learned that the secret connection between me and my psyche was actually a simple process: just stop, look and listen:

  • Stop: Take a couple of minutes each day to close your eyes and imagine how you want your life to be.
  • Look: Try to objectively observe how you are progressing and what you might need to tweak.
  • Listen: Compliment yourself out loud and let those few short sentences spur you on.

My relationship with myself is a humorous one. Together, we chuckle at my ability to detail the heck out of even the smallest task. We giggle at the way I prompt myself to hum a tune as a reminder not to review a past mistake over and over again. We chortle at my micro-managing tendencies, practiced under the guise of providing useful information to anyone at any time, whether they want it or not. And we have a good laugh over whether I can finish reading an article before getting up to fix something out of place on the other side of the room.

I realized that in order to move ahead and see the big picture, little by little, I had to let go of the minutiae of everyday life. This has given me a bit of a carefree feeling so that I now only document 41% of my life on Excel spreadsheets (down from 92%) and just last week, walked past 2 crooked welcome mats without giving them a second thought.

We are all a work in progress. I now understand that I need to embrace the odd duck in me and realize that I cannot totally change who I am at this point in my life, but I can work with myself and not against myself to create the best imperfect perfect person that I can be.

 

*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!

Helping to Keep Austin Weird  

Photo Weird.jpg

I’m too excited to sleep. I blame you for this, Austin; you overstimulate me. You work hard to maintain your city’s official slogan “Keep Austin Weird” by tantalizing me with the bizarre, the off-beat, and you keep peaking my curiosity. And now that you have recently been named the best place to live in America by U.S. News and World Report, there will be no stopping you.

As I reflect on my first year of living here, it’s been a great ride, made up of interesting experiences that I am not sure could or would have happened anywhere else:

Central Market
On arrival, we need to get our bearings and Mr. Wiz* has a plan. Having visited a Central Market in Houston (shop at this gourmet marketplace on steroids, then dance to live music at night), he logically reasons that locating the Austin store will lead us to a great neighborhood, so he’ll ask at their information desk. Pointing out that the staff may be more prepared to locate a product by aisle than to relocate us, I decide to wait in the car. A few minutes later, I am surprised to see a woman in a cowboy hat and boots walk out of the store with Mr. Wiz and shake his hand. He had seen her on line at the information desk and perused her shopping cart. Noticing an excellent wine selection, he decided to ask her where we should live. He was not surprised at all that she enthusiastically lauded her neighborhood and pointed him in the direction of a new building. We signed a lease there 2 days later.

Pints and Poses
The Hyatt Hotel and I have accomplished the impossible; we got Mr. Wiz* to attend a monthly yoga class. Studies have proven that if you offer a guy a free beer, he will happily execute a downward dog pose, no questions asked. In the spirit of community (turns out that yoga and beer are great conversation starters), the hotel offers complimentary parking, a yoga class and a glass of craft beer.

Chicken S**t Bingo
The unassuming Little Longhorn Saloon is a tiny place that looks more like a church with a steeple than a bar. The band is loud, the beer is cold and the place is packed, both inside and out. It’s a Sunday afternoon and my family is still shocked that this was my birthday destination of choice. I explain to them that this is a famous venue and we’re going to be experiencing a bit of the original Austin. While we visit the chickens and chat with Ginny, “the chicken whisperer”, we learn that the afternoon will include “chickens, chicken feed and what happens after chickens eat.” The $2 ticket has a number on it and will get you one chance on the giant plywood bingo table. I’m sure that these chickens have their SAG cards; they are real professionals. They strut around the table, working the room into a cheering frenzy. As luck would have it, the chicken leaves her “mark” on my number and I am the winner of $115 in cash!

Keep Austin Weird Festival
We had so much fun last year volunteering to assist with the 5K check in, that we decide to do it again. Known as the “Slowest 5K Race on the Planet”, everyone is welcome to participate and a bizarre costume will win you a prize. Young, old, babies in strollers and dogs all strut their stuff and stop along the way at different stations for beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), ice cream and activities. At the festival, I cheered on aardvarks as they raced and chatted with a woman in a mermaid costume, who explained the story of her tattoos to me.

Weird Homes Tour
I am very excited for tour day to come and even more so now, since I am the winner of 2 VIP tickets that include the tour and the after party. By the end of the day, we will have driven 90 miles all over Austin, investigating homes that range from a bucolic wonderland in a nature preserve, with quotes from Emily Dickinson poems written over the doorways and pastoral views out every French door to a series of domes lovingly pieced together into an artist’s retreat, rumored to have special healing powers to a traditional home on the outside and a Feng Shui inspired home on the inside with a red velvet lounge room and a royal blue cosmic room featuring a 100” flat screen TV (most guys did not get past this point and just stood, gaping at the TV).

The owners of the next group of homes, self-confessed pack rats, delighted in the fact that they were living in a never to be completed work of art. Whether it was a police car hood with working sirens on the ceiling, doll heads under glass, a wall of salt and pepper shakers, a lamp made from a 1950’s salon hair dryer or a hollowed-out armadillo containing guest washcloths, each treasure had a story. Chatting with the enthusiastic homeowners, who were so warm and welcoming, I left the day wondering if there was any room in my perfectionist personality for a little eccentricity. Sensing Mr. Wiz’s concern over the souvenirs I collect during the day, I ease his worries and announce that I am not adopting hoarding tendencies any time soon.

We arrive at Indra’s Awarehouse for the after party. It’s a large metal roofed warehouse, filled to the brim with the owner’s art and collections of oddities. The surreal setting is right out of a Fellini film: a barefooted band plays on a carpeted stage; as if on cue, a dog drops a deflated ball at the feet of guests, prompting them to throw it on to the stage for him to chase; scantily dressed acro-yoginis glide up yards of silk fabric and perform above our heads. A cocktail seems in order, even though the professionally dressed bar staff looks out of place. We laughingly imagine that this is probably just another day for the owner; waking up to coffee in the morning and greeting some hangers-on at the bar (with bar staff still in uniform) and waving to the overhead performers that continue all day long. Hungry, we peruse the snacks. While, protein is always welcome, tonight it is in the form of bags of flavored crickets and mealy worms. We grab some regular popcorn and eagerly await some daring guests to taste them and offer a critique. We learn from the more adventurous that anything crunchy with a BBQ flavor is edible after some of Austin’s handmade Tito’s Vodka.

Austin, you give me the same feeling that I experienced whenever my grandmother would open her coat and let me snuggle in with her. You opened up your big, warm, wonderful, weird arms to me. Your people are so friendly and so welcoming. Sure, the temperature heats up, but living here makes me feel so cool. You have that big city vibe with the twang of Texas mixed in. You seem to bring out the best in me and I feel like this is where I am supposed to be. I only hope I can continue to do my civic duty and generate the accepted level of weirdness.

 

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