Too Close for Comfort?

Photo Too Close Comfort

I settled into my seat, excitedly anticipating the start of the show. Munchkins and flying monkeys aside, “Wicked,” the back story to “The Wizard of Oz” would, hopefully, answer the questions I had about the good and wicked witches since I was a little girl. It wasn’t until the end of the performance that I realized that, had I sat back further, I would have appreciated the sets and costumes even more. Sometimes taking a step back is the smartest thing we can do.

Must we always be in the moment? Just as babies become overstimulated from too many sensations and experiences, we too get overwhelmed. Moving away from the issue at hand, taking a deep breath and giving ourselves time for contemplation can make all the difference in resetting our thoughts and feelings and rocking ourselves back to tranquility.

Whether we’re observing a still life in an art gallery or pondering if our life is still on track that one little backward movement gives us a bigger picture and a clearer view.

As it relates to our loved ones, seeing them up on an actual stage, experiencing an important stage of their lives with them or just watching them from afar, gives us a new perspective of who they really are.

Backing up, taking a look around us and appreciating how fortunate we are could do well to reverse those weighty thoughts into lighter feelings of gratitude.

So, let’s all remember that when things get a bit too close, all we need to do is give them a gentle nudge back to where they belong and realize that one step back is really one step forward in disguise.

Though no one can make a brand new start,
anyone can start from now
and make a brand new ending.

Carl Bard

 

Author’s note: Start watching for blog posts every other week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copycats; Imitating Nature

Photo Biomimicry

The answers have been there all along. According to its definition, biomimicry is an approach to innovation that utilizes proven strategies and designs that have already been adapted by nature. In other words, we are now learning from nature, rather than about nature.

The bumps on the flippers of the humpback whale help them to “grip” the water. This aerodynamic characteristic has been used in the design of wind turbines and is working to enhance the safety and performance of airplanes.

Modeling the front of a European hi-speed train after the beak of a kingfisher created a quieter ride and the use of 15 percent less electricity while the train traveled 10 percent faster.

Emulating a dolphin’s unique frequency capabilities, a high-performance underwater system has been developed as a tsunami warning system.

I happen to dabble in Biomimetics on the side. It doesn’t take long to discover that the natural world is chock full of concepts that are just begging to be adapted. In the course of my research, some stood out more than others. Calls to the Biomimicry Institute have gone unanswered, but I continue to persevere.

Make room, $2.5 billion dating market; here’s a new concept that will revolutionize the dating world. No more wondering if you should wait three days to call or if you talked too much at dinner; imitating the sage grouse mating rituals eliminates the stress and cuts to the chase. The male struts, fans his tail much like that of a peacock and makes a strange popping sound in order to attract a female mate; done! Call it the “Magic Mike” of the bird world, but I think there might be something to this.

The next time you shoo away ants, take the time to actually view a colony at work. Jobs are defined and assigned. Teamwork and organization are key. Persistence counteracts any obstacles and goals are met. No fancy business consultants are required to run this operation like a well-oiled machine. Instead of those expensive employee team building activities, I envision Ant 101; groups of employees out in a park, laying on the ground on their stomachs with iPads and laptops, documenting their tiny compadres’ remarkable achievements.

The bad news: a female polar bear gains 400 pounds during pregnancy. The good news: during delivery, she digs a maternity den in a snowdrift, hibernates for two months and actually sleeps through her pregnancy. Baby shower, dig, hibernate, baby, SlimFast for a year or two; call me crazy, but this just might beat out the new luxury birthing experiences being touted lately. I’m sure there are women out there that would trade a mani pedi for hibernation. Oh, and after two years, baby polar bears have been completely acclimated to their surroundings and are sent out on their own; no college bills and the longest empty nesting in history!

I now have a newfound respect for the environment. Each time I visit a zoo, hear a bird singing in a tree or watch a flower bloom, I’ll remember to slow down and wonder if we’ll all be mirroring them someday soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savor the Small

Photo Savor the Small

The older woman at the gym looked right at me as if she knew me and spoke. “…Seeing Rachel so clean made me so happy this morning. After we washed her last time we tried running over with the car to try to squeeze the water out…” I had intended to make a quick exit, but my curiosity got the better of me. “And, who’s Rachel?..” I asked. “…Oh, it’s the rug that our cat sleeps on. She loves it because it’s the same color as her mom, Rachel was, so we named it Rachel the Rug…” And with that, she bid me farewell, leaving me to scratch my head and smile, as I was reminded of how those small things in life can bring us such joy.

I started listening a bit more intently to those around me to see if I could pick up any of the delights in their lives. One friend said that, on entering the kitchen each morning, just the sight of the coffeepot, sugar bowl and the creamer waiting to be filled warms her. Another shared that he loves to sit on his porch and sing along to old cowboy songs. A comment I’d heard more than once was that sitting down with a good book was like welcoming back an old friend.

Every morning, I look forward to my first sip of hot tea and I enjoy the quiet that comes from locking myself in our study. After I get comfortable on the sofa, I gaze across the room at the bookshelf and look at each memento; a photo or an object that reminds me of some chapter of my life. I say a few prayers and try to meditate. Then, the laptop comes out and I begin writing. When I finally open those French doors to begin my day, I feel utterly refreshed.

These occurrences we’re personally experiencing each day, though miniature in size, have a way of counteracting the complex, fast-paced routines of our daily lives. It’s life’s balancing act, prompting us to ride the wave, but not to let it drown us.

The phone ringing and Big A’s* voice on the other end saying …”Hey there!..,” the way Mr. Wiz* interlocks my pinky with his on days when it’s just too warm out to hold hands, an old family photo album, cooking to the sound of a favorite song; these are the things I want to make sure I hold close. What are the tiny treasures in your life?

 

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

 

A Toast to My Dad

Photo FLC FD

After the first sip of their martini, the conversation was to begin. The plan was to meet my parents and announce that Mr. Wiz* and I had decided to move in together. Since my dad, of Latin descent, had never even grasped the concept of a children’s sleep over and that remained forbidden territory, it seemed only right to welcome cocktails into the discussion.

Mr. Wiz took a deep breath and, in his deep, professional voice, presented our strategy. He started off by letting his deep feelings for me be known. If we shared a household, we would then be able to lease a showroom for the business we owned together. Both having already been divorced, we would then take our time and let the relationship blossom.

The uncomfortable silence was broken when my dad slowly took a sip of his martini, looked Mr. Wiz straight in the eyes from across the table and said “…What?! How well do we know you? Let me tell you something; one call and I could have your legs broken. Do you understand what I’m saying?..”

After that, things got a bit fuzzy. I remember yelling “…Daddy!..,” jumping up from the table and heading to the ladies room with JC* following behind me. As she wiped away my tears, I remember JC explaining that when you were born in Hell’s Kitchen (a section of New York City whose ambiance needs no explanation), this was almost a prerequisite to a family welcome.

I calmed down and we both headed back to the table, not knowing what to expect. To my surprise, my dad and Mr. Wiz were leaning in toward each other, talking and laughing as if nothing had happened. That was the start of a beautiful relationship and to this day, what transpired during their secret meeting has never been divulged.

From humble beginnings and with little formal education, he had no choice but to put his head down and forge ahead, until each of his goals were accomplished. Once successful, his go big or go home attitude was tempered with his advice to always stay just a little under what you could afford.

When he would instill in me that I should do it right or not at all, I’m sure I’d roll my eyes and then begin again, methodically working toward an end goal that would make us both proud.

The first time he announced his belief that everyone is No. 1 after you, I thought it extremely selfish until I realized that, once again, he was right. Now, every time an airline instructs us to place our oxygen mask on first before assisting others, I can’t help but smile.

How many times since his passing have I wondered what he would’ve done in a similar situation. And, how many times have I known just what to do.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.

 

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.