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.

 

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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.

Brain Bounce and an Ounce of Prevention    

Photo Brain Bounce

I think I may have learned my lesson this time. Last week, I absent mindedly walked around the wrong side of a snake while hiking, took a short cut through spiny cactus and may have accidently signed up for the Chicago Bucktown Buck Naked Bike Race.

My mind and my body constantly seem to be at odds. As I make my way through the day, I notice that my physical presence is not always in sync with my thoughts. I may look like I am going for a leisurely walk or sitting quietly reading, but in actuality my brain is planning, scheduling and organizing days, weeks and months ahead.

I call this phenomenon brain bounce. As our minds race along each day, we take our eye off the ball (our current focus) and our psyche jumps on to another mental image and then another and we lose our rhythm.

Women are known for taking on the weight of the world. We can’t help ourselves; our lives seem to become intertwined with everyone and everything that crosses our path. Our family and friends are packed like sardines into our daily thoughts. Yet, we have this incredible ability to multitask the heck out of each day, then close our eyes each night and let the smoke flow out of our ears as our minds shut down for the night.

Human nerve cells are arranged in patterns that coordinate our brain functions. I imagine a woman’s pattern to be an intricate, elaborate multicolored design that swirls and twirls and men’s to be solid, black and white squares. While male neurons probably hum along at an even pace during the course of a day, I picture the female counterparts constantly sparking and spewing, as our control system processes information faster than the speed of light.

As I marvel that this amazing organ is only the size of a small head of cauliflower and my mind wanders to recipes with said veggie, I bring myself back around to the question at hand: how to live by our wits and relieve ourselves of the hop, skip and jump of our thought process.

Here are some exercises I’m working on:

  • Focus on one thing at a time: this takes a bit of discipline, but I’m trying hard to concentrate and tune out everything else.
  • Find the Zen: when you get lost in the rhythm of the task at hand, you experience a state of calm attentiveness.
  • Avoid quick decisions: I need to remind myself to take that extra moment to analyze the possible outcome.

The ball is in my court; when I feel myself leaping before I look, it’s time for me to jog my memory before I am sprung from springing again.

 

M.O.M.: Mind Over Matter

Photo MOM

“…Ay, Juanita, Are you sure you want to use those scissors on your wedding dress?..” The year was 1950 and JC’s* new Latina mother-in-law couldn’t seem to convince her to change her mind. She was dead set on creating the perfect hostess robe. Back then, you dreamed of greeting guests as the movie stars did; in a cross between an evening formal and a bathrobe (realizing that the tent like sleeves were a fire hazard in the kitchen, this creation soon met its demise). A few crooked cuts later, the plan was scrapped in favor of an ice skating outfit and then a handkerchief. After a good laugh together, JC immediately let go of her disappointment and moved on.

Her resiliency, determination and independent spirit came at an early age. Her parents’ divorce had prepared her well. The independent little girl would cheerfully bloom wherever she was planted, whether it was with her eccentric aunt or her doting grandmother.

As a young woman, she would head to the top Manhattan dance clubs, sometimes alone. She had inherited her moxie from her mom, whose advice she would remember when heading home back to New Jersey late at night: always walk near the street, not the buildings. On her 21stbirthday, she met the handsome Latin from Manhattan (my dad) who swept her off her feet, even though her mom did not approve. She rode the ups and downs of all his dreams and schemes as if on a bucking bronco, holding on and never willing to let go.

To this day, JC does not like to be told what to do. When a physical therapist recently suggested a certain exercise three times a day, she nodded attentively and then decided that once was sufficient. When we scold her for not drinking enough water, she listens politely and then continues to hydrate with a few sips from a water fountain. Now it seems that even her doctor has acquiesced and stated that if she has made it so healthy and happy thus far, she should just continue to do whatever she’s been doing.

But, this does not stop the perfectionist in me from trying to bring her over to the dark side and share my passion for organization. She probably does not refer to the Excel spreadsheet I made for her entitled “Travel Checklist” and encased in plastic, but I feel better just knowing it lurks somewhere in her bottom drawer. The last time we traveled together, I asked her where the  blow up travel neck pillow and eye mask I bought her were. Surprised by the question, she answered “…Home…,” as if it was the most logical answer. Both in travel and in life, she prefers the lighter approach.

In honor of Mother’s Day this year, I am going to try to limit my strong desire to rearrange her drawers when I visit (spice and desk will be the hardest). I will not straighten one picture on the wall or strongly suggest anything. In order to keep myself in check, I will institute a homemade  internal warning system (a hard pinch should work). What better gift than the one that keeps on giving?

The mother/daughter relationship can sometimes be a wobbly balance. Keeping in mind the yin and yang of it all, I realize that I need to let her stand on her own two feet and get out of her way, just as she did for me.

Arm in arm with curiosity and spunk, JC confidently continues to go her merry way, skipping through life and reminding me every day how important it is to follow your own path and to dance to your own music.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

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

 

When Things Don’t Go Swimmingly, Dive In

Photo Swimmingly

Miss Londa had her hands full. A swimming teacher for 15 years, she had seen her share of budding swim team champions and those that, try as they might, just sunk to the bottom of the pool.

Back then, Big A* was an enthusiastic 4-year old student, ready to master each week’s lesson. He’d giggle when I’d call him “Fish Boy” and took to the water immediately. Never having learned to swim, I decided it was a good time for me to join in. It was when Miss Londa asked that I swim across the pool so she could ascertain my ability level that she wondered to herself if it was too late to use her journalism degree to change careers.

Jumping right in and splashing about, I enthusiastically did a version of the dog paddle and dead man’s float that I had personally customized over the years, which left both Miss Londa and Big A stunned. Each week, Big A would progress to the next level and I would be trailing behind, sometimes taking tips from the pre-school age star of the class. With some extra lessons and much practice, I finally graduated.

Years later, I ran into Miss Londa on the street. After joking that we had recognized each other with clothes on, we chuckled about those classes so long ago. She mentioned that, even though I was the worst student ability-wise, she ever had, my enthusiasm and determination had turned me into a swimmer, bolstered her and made her a better teacher. She said goodbye, but not before giving me a hug and thanking me.

When I look back, I don’t remember thinking that this was something I wasn’t good at. Rather, I saw myself swimming laps alongside Big A and enjoying a new form of exercise. Apparently, my mind saw me perfecting underwater somersaults while my body lagged behind trying to keep up. It’s sink or swim out there; apparently positive thinking jumped in and aquatically speaking, compelled itself to commence swimming drills with or without the participation of my body.

Today, each time I wriggle into my Speedo bathing suit, plug up my ears, stretch the bathing cap over my head and put my nose plug on just right, I feel like both like a stuffed sausage and an Olympic swimmer (truth be told, though I’ve moved on from considering a career as a synchronized swimmer, I haven’t discounted the Senior Olympics as yet).

Water, life: rather than feeling apprehensive and settling for just dipping your toe in, why not take the plunge, dive right in and propel yourself?

 

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

 

The Mad Scientist That Lurks Within You

Photo Mad Scientist

I have no talent, I am only passionately curious. Albert Einstein

It began as mental floss; a way of channeling my inquisitiveness into some sort of psychological relaxation to soothe my Type A personality.

It started out simple. Armed with a background in supporting grade school science projects, I was confident that I could test a hunch I had, analyze the data and see if a theory was evident. That’s how my scientific experiments began.

My first hypothesis was the observation that perception would outweigh reality. When Big A* was 11 years old, the fashionable traits he inherited from his mom began to present themselves in the form of snubbing any clothing that was not expensive. My only tool a thin marker, I carefully changed the $19.99 sale price of a pair of Nike sneakers to $79.99. The resulted affection and care I observed spurred me to continue this practice until I could no longer get away with it.

Confident now in my abilities, I set out to seek evidence that even a small, swift personal connection in an urban environment would create a positive reaction. On city streets I would do nothing more than smile at the person passing by me. For the most part, it was exhilarating to observe their countenance change right before my eyes as their face brightened. I then added the variable of a daily practice with mixed results. In Chicago, it resulted in friendships (read “Why a Stranger Isn’t Strange To Me”), but in New York, my subjects simply crossed the street.

Now it was time to take my analysis to the next level. Could natural methods combat anti-aging? Was there an alternative to being nipped, tucked and injected? I conferred with skin care specialists and decided to focus on a face lifting massage. In an effort to stimulate blood and lymph flow, detoxify, firm, lift, fight gravity and glow, I apply avocado oil to my face and follow a daily regimen as instructed by a YouTube video. It might just be my imagination since the trial is still in progress, but I sense beneficial results.

If you’ve ever hesitated, trying to remember a fact or a name, you share my concern. Hoping it to be a result of brain overload, would the polyphenol in pomegranates be the antioxidant superpower I was seeking? After reading about a preliminary 2013 study at UCLA conducted on a small group of older adults with age-related memory complaints, I was intrigued. Resulting in increased verbal memory performance and functional brain activity after one month, drinking eight ounces of pomegranate juice a day was a no-brainer.

Detecting Mr. Wiz’s* skepticism, I decided to perform a side, cause and effect procedure on him. While watching television one evening, I corrected him on the name of an actress. I then recounted her date of birth, birthplace, parents’ names, career history and marriages all in one breath, suggesting it was due to the second day of intake of my new magic elixir. Of course, none of the information was true, but it certainly got his attention.

I must confess, I sometimes find it hard to drink down an entire dose of juice; it’s too sweet for me. Unfortunately, suggestions sent to the company to consider a pretzel flavor have gone unanswered. As research continues, I rationalize the price of this study with the fact that, if all else fails, I could always add vodka to the liquid in question at Happy Hour. Or, I could paint the interesting shaped POM brand bottles and use them as vases, thus resulting in another study: time analysis of learning methodology on non-craft minded individuals.

Overall, my dabble in the scientific has been a win-win; it’s enhanced my sense of wonder, while redirecting my focus, soothing my kinetic energy levels and calming me down. Just remember, there’s a bit of the mad scientist in us all; be the catalyst for your curiosity! And if you do see me walking down the street smiling at you with a shiny, avocado-oiled face and pomegranate juice stains on my shirt, please don’t cross the street.

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Skinny on Infatuation

Photo Infatuation

I’m never sure how it happens; appeal leads to interest, attraction becomes fascination. In any case, I’m sure family and friends are grateful that, by definition, infatuation is an intense passion that is relatively short-lived.

I remember my puff pastry phase as if it were yesterday. Pepperidge Farm provided the blank canvas and I created the masterpieces. The way I lovingly rolled out the dough, then wrapped everything that I could find in it, made some afraid to leave their small pets around me. I gradually moved on, but not before hosting a jovial dinner party that is still talked about in some circles, whereby every course was enveloped in crusty deliciousness. This resulted in copious amounts of wine being consumed, mostly as a defense mechanism in order to facilitate swallowing.

Chef Ina Garten is directly responsible for my fresh parsley stage. She is the queen of finishing each dish with just a touch of lemon, kosher salt or parsley to bring out its hidden flavors. My rationale is that I might have fallen asleep while six back-to-back episodes of “The Barefoot Contessa” played on and into my subconscious. I happily chopped and decorated until I stopped in my tracks one morning, realizing that my garnishing days were numbered after absentmindedly adorning my morning oatmeal.

Grateful for no lingering food allergies, I moved on to footwear. My love of shoes presented itself in a fascination with spectators. Popular in the 1930s, the low-heeled oxford style men’s shoe is known for its contrasting colors on its toe and heel. Wallis Simpson’s spectators, thought of as quite flamboyant at the time, might very well have been the catalyst for Edward VIII to abdicate the English throne. To me, they signified the allure of a time past. My search finally landed me at an Allen Edmonds shoe store, where I treated myself to a pair, to the fascination of their male clientele. To this day, I worry about falling forward when I wear them, as I lean over to appreciate their sculptural lines.

Which brings me to my two latest crushes: spray bottles and vinegar. As we all know, spray bottles were originally invented to fill with holy water and hide by the front door. If you worked quickly, you could mist your child as they entered back into the world, without them ever realizing it. I have no idea where using vinegar came from, other than the fact that I have been eating a lot of salad lately. My collection contains white vinegar and water as a household cleaner, white vinegar and dishwashing liquid as a weed killer and apple cider vinegar to rejuvenate my skin. Now that the bottles are properly labelled and the chaos has subsided, I can settle into a spraying frenzy.

As I flow in and out of these infatuations, I have lasting memories of them all; Scrabble (playing for money finally got my family back on board with board games), polka dots (curiosity into its history led me into an in-depth study of what I have termed “polkadotology”) and flamenco dancing (was being invited by a guitarist to dance on the street in Seville, Spain my 15 minutes of fame?) to name just a few.

Not a movement so powerful as to become a trend and not consuming me into an obsession, an infatuation is a playful fondness that lurks inside us all, if we just take the time to grasp its pudgy, little hand and come out and play.

 

 

 

 

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.

When You Zag Rather Than Zig

Photo Zig Zag

It’s not the way it was supposed to happen. It always arrives at the most inopportune time. It’s never invited, it just crashes your party and refuses to leave. It overpowers your thoughts, changes your plans and affects your emotions. It leaves you feeling lost and unguided.

Disappointment can be annoying, crushing or somewhere in between, but when things don’t go our way, how do we really know which direction they were intended? Until that door closes, another one cannot open. Even though it’s frustrating, we have no choice but to patiently wait until the entire scenario plays itself out before we get to see how it ends.

The end is usually a new beginning. A love lost that steers us toward our true partner. A career change that sparks our creativity. A move that lands us where we belong. Tears that make us appreciate every smile. Maladies that help us to celebrate life.

I am always in awe of the sheer strength and determination of the human spirit. There’s something inside us that gives us an internal hug just when we need it the most. It’s like the throb you feel when a wound starts to heal. It’s your body letting you know that it’s being attended to and before long, it seems as if it had never happened.

Whether you believe that you are being guided by a higher power or by the universe, we can all agree that a little fortitude, hutzpah and moxie will go a long way in reminding us that sometimes we need to go left when things don’t go right and that zag doesn’t always follow zig.