Thursday, July 30, 2015
Good old Murphy’s Law can knock the socks off you when you are tired and your resistance is down.
Take the washing machine incident.
All I wanted to do was hit the bed, and get a start on releasing jet lag’s grip. How grateful to have my husband navigating the traffic for my eyes were too blurry to follow passing road signs.
We talked in snatches about the highlights of my trip and a smattering of news, all of which went in one ear and out the other.
He assured me that he had gotten a note from the repairman as proof of his innocence stating that in no way did he have anything to do with the machine’s demise. I laughed at his feeble attempt at humoring me, and gave him credit for trying to ease me into reality.
My husband knows how to operate the washer. He went on to explain the problem in technical terms. I didn’t care. It made no sense. All I heard was “dead.”
I slumped further into the car seat thinking about an entire suitcase filled with dirty clothes that needed washing the next day. My coping skills momentarily were out to dry.
It’s not the worst calamity in the world, and it could be solved. I took a couple deep breaths and realized that I would be out and about to the appliance store the next morning purchasing a new one. Sigh.
During my trip I had kept up with the passing of an elderly acquaintance here, and other challenging issues from a family member another state away. The latter one was troublesome, and no new appliance would straighten it out. Sometimes it is good to acknowledge that our petty little problems are insignificant considering what others have on their plates.
Now is the time to reveal something about my nature. You see I am not an ordinary person with a desire to keep control of the laundry piles. Doing laundry is a pleasurable experience that I enjoy much more than any other household task. Washing never gets the best of me, and the more piles to sort through, the merrier I become by nature.
A highly- efficient machine with all the bells and whistles is as important to me as a Cuisinart mixer to a gourmet cook.
Could it be that somehow I have felt that in another life I must have been an Irish washerwoman — I have no Irish roots — and poured sweat and tears over batches of laundry piles scrubbing with muscle power and with red-ripened hands?
Here’s a flash bit of fiction that resonates in my soul.
I am a red-nosed sniveling Irish washerwoman balancing loads of other people’s dirty linens between wooden tubs of lukewarm soapy suds and clear rinse water.
Two Hail Mary’s and a dunk bless the residues of last night’s pub covering the front of the shirt. Strong fingers stained with bleach and dyes have reduced my nails to crumbling nothings, yet my work has value considering the immense secrets that I scrub away on the metal board back and forth, back and forth, until the sun stands directly overhead.
I feel into the worn fibers smelling a scent of new birthing up out of the baptismal font cleansed of Da’s childhood beatings, or whatever tale of woe that has slipped away in the slop of the dirty bucket.
When I fold the faded coarse shirt with a firm pat from the palm of my hand I am calculating all the while dropping an Irish twenty pence or two into the till on the window ledge, thank you very much. Your life is safe in mine. I praise be to the sun, moon and another bowl of stew on the table tonight for my wee darlins’.
All’s well that end’s well. My new washing machine was in operation forty-eight hours later, and my clothes and I were not permanently wrinkled in despair. I am thankful also for believing in shopping locally for sales and service.
A brief glitch in the machinery, and I have moved on handling the heavy-duty load of problems.
Monday, July 20, 2015
Barcelona restored music theatre
It is a shame when you travel by foot in a new location, and you are in such a hurry, that you keep your eyes glued forward while rushing to the next tourist spot on your list. I notice people doing that all the time, and I want to yell out to them, "Put away your guidebook and look."
I explore with all my senses. I insist that I stop and be present to the moment. It is an art that I have learned to improve my travel adventures tenfold.
My solution: Periodically, I find a park bench or sidewalk cafe - it's not hard to do in other countries - and sit for a bit to soak it all in. I find that I don't stand out for locals take time for conversation and relaxation on a regular basis appreciating the manicured wide sidewalks and parks.
Also, I browse inside stores and buildings that intrigue me from their outsides. I never know what treasure I will uncover like the ceiling of a cafe in Barcelona, or the decorative facade of the restored music theatre. Can I name any of the composers?
Others may be able to rattle off all the places that they saw like a travelogue. I, on the other hand, have collected decent memories of a different kind about a particular city.
Thursday, July 16, 2015
You come on time.
You are an early bird.
You are late to the party.
One of those best describes you.
A forty-something couple enters a party in full swing. It’s over an hour past the starting time according to the invitation. Everyone swarms around them as if they are local celebrities, and the twosome doesn’t miss a beat.
Here I have been glancing at my watch thinking how soon I can duck out. I bet some of you are nodding your heads vigorously. The older we get, the more we go to bed with the sunset, and rise at the rooster’s crow.
Now the festivities are kicking up another notch, and I don’t get if the couple’s arrival sparked the fire, or it was about to ignite anyhow. Oh well, I guess I need to revive and party up.
Certain women and men have that knack, and playing by the rules on the invite isn’t important to them. Did they let the host know that they would be coming late? Perhaps, it doesn’t matter. The host is a laid back kind of soul that loves company.
In case you’re interested, I usually get to a party quite close to the appropriate time if at all possible.
Now I am not even going to mention party crashing, for that was something I did- oops- as a twenty-something, and it was loads of fun slipping in to a room in the middle of the evening pretending to be one of the guests.
Read the descriptions and see where you land on the hands of the clock.
Ready. Set. Go. It’s a timed quiz.
1. Fashionably late. You are arriving to be noticed by the maximum number of guests. It takes practice to figure it out just right, and you have to have the exact personality that can pull it off, too. No shrinking violets here.
If there is an age thing mixed in there, I am not sure. Certain people love the attention and think a party doesn’t begin until it warms up. Their rationale must be that there is no sense wasting a precious hour or so until all the other lively folk appear.
2. Plain old late. On the other hand, you could be the type that is simply late and nothing less is expected from you. It’s your normal behavior and everyone knows it about you. You are a dependable friend with all good intentions, but you can never pull it off.
I had an aunt like that. She would come on a dead run to every family function a little past the hour. We all knew she would get there after another minor calamity putting together her famous Jell-O salad, or fetching the dog in from outside. We’d patiently listen to the latest trauma and shake our heads.
Is it genetic, or acquired behavior?
Is your partner compatible with you time wise?
3. Embarrassingly too early. Coming way a head of time while the hostess is shoving down a hasty dinner to her kids is awkward. It’s party rude, too, unless you are a pretty regular friend.
Hanging around filling water glasses and making useless conversation is not what the host wants just before party countdown. It’s that looney hour when lists are checked like a drill sergeant and the second-in-command executes last minute details while the host is in a mad dash applying her make-up.
Get a life. Seriously.
4. Herd mentality. If blending in with the crowd is your security blanket, your strategy is pulling up to the curb, waiting for others to join you walking up the front sidewalk and entering together like a bunch of junior high school chums.
Another option is driving around the block a couple times until there are several cars parked on the street. Once in awhile there is that accidental phenomenon when folks peel out of their cars all at once like lemmings, and you feel a sense of immediate relief.
5. Spot on. Ringing the doorbell at the exact time set on the invitation is remarkable behavior. You have few fellow compatriots left out there in the world. Besides, you might be hanging on to a lost art in manners from a previous decade or two. You are punctual for appointments, dates and every other occasion as a matter of course. At least, that’s what your fortune cookie says.
6. Slightly late on purpose. Appearing 5 to 10 minutes late so as not to be the first guest is a practiced technique. It’s a tricky balancing act, and you still might be the first person to ring the doorbell with your sweaty fingertips. It’s hard to judge unless you keep binoculars in your car.
7. No show. Staying home cuddling with your dog claiming you don't feel well is one way to avoid socialization. It may not be the last straw, though. There are those nights when the last thing you need is a party, and relaxing solo is the healthier way to go.
Introverted soul. Maybe not.
My guess is that your answer will be: all of the above at one time or another with the possible exception of__.
No matter what your style, remember to have a sensational time and bring the host a gift.
Oh, and don’t forget to send a thank you note. I have written a column, “Waiting for Your Answer,” on that social faux pas if you check the LCN archives.
Friday, July 10, 2015
My wish is to stay here for hours and hours scribbling notes about the feelings coming to my mind, and shooting pictures with wild abandon. Nothing else matters. Let the clock stand still.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
“Could you speak a little slower, please? I didn’t get that.”
Traveling can be a myth buster. I went to Spain with the false assumption that the majority of people in cosmopolitan cities spoke English.
Apparently I hadn’t done my research, or I would have discovered that the Spanish are not particularly interested in the English language. They have their own language after all.
I had made a valiant attempt over the winter to review Rosetta Stone lessons and thought I could communicate acceptably.
|Folk dancing on Sundays in the square.|
When I am in a different country I never expect things to be the same as home. Why would I travel then?
I always greet people, thank them and say good-bye in their native tongue. It’s a simple act of consideration that breaks down the language barrier, and it makes a statement about bringing the world a little closer one person at a time.
A tall, regal dark-haired Barcelona shopkeeper and I carried on a conversation with our limited ability in each other's language.
When I first approached her in a tiny boutique and started speaking in English, she seemed a little flustered. She frowned, backed away, and told me between Spanish and a few English words sprinkled in for comfort that I would have to speak slowly.
I think that she was afraid that I would leave her store, which I had no intention of doing. I had found a colorful scarf that I planned to purchase and didn’t need it gift-wrapped.
Her penetrating eyes followed mine, listened intently and relaxed her smile as we connected in words and a lot of sign language.
Spanish children learn the rudiments of English pretty much how I learned Spanish and French in school. I can do pretty well with vocabulary and simple phrases, but I lack in stringing sentences together. I simply don’t practice in real life situations.
A high percentage of Spaniards with university degrees leave the country for job opportunities elsewhere, and unfortunately, Spain is suffering from a brain drain and a lagging economy.
Often jobs depend upon English, though, like the position of attendant at the Delta check-in desk at the airport. Each employee rotates there on assignment strictly to improve English skills since tourism is Spain’s leading industry.
|Only a few of the tapa selections in a bar in Bilbao.|
The menu was in Spanish, the waitress couldn’t speak English and the chef was too hassled with cooking preparation. The group of us around the table wisely decided flexibility was going to see us through.
We combined our limited language skills and ordered. We did rather well making selections ranging from paella, beef stew to red or white wine. No one ate a “surprise” dish. In fact, it turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip.
Dinner at nine o’clock in the evening is a stretch for a tired tourist, and that is where the pub-crawl by snacking on tapas and local wine is the best solution.
|A Gaudi house|
Once I entered, I pointed to what I wanted, and the morsels were placed on a plate. I saved the toothpicks for the count when I went to pay my bill.
My favorite was a place that I kept returning like Boston’s “Cheers.” It was a gourmet feast steps from my hotel. Every night there were different selections — savory fresh tuna slices on buns, an olive assortment, beef in a seasoned sauce, anchovies and shrimp — piled high on platters. I never found a local wine that I didn’t appreciate, and the cost was reasonable.
I sat surrounded by tired Spaniards stopping for a café or wine with tapas while connecting with a friend before rushing off home to prepare for the dinner hour. Once I observed two young moms taking a break with their babies fast asleep in their strollers.
In a small rural village, Cuenca, I had a lunch with a young couple in the process of setting up a travel business hoping to entice American and European hikers to the area for guided day trips. They were computer savvy and knew all about social media. However, they both admitted that they were not proficient in English enough to achieve their goals quite yet.
The last encounter that I had as I left the Barcelona airport was with a salesperson at the café stand. She helped me spend my remaining euro coins and talked about the weather. I almost got the drift of it, and nodded as I went on my way. Adios until the next visit.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
I became fascinated with tiles while on a trip to explore the cities of Spain, and everywhere I went my camera was photographing colorful floors, walls and sidewalks. These sections were on a lovely park walkway between my hotel and the Museum of Art in Bilbao. It made a statement about the importance of outdoor natural spaces and the cultural climate of the country. I was impressed.
|Tiles are not as simplistic as they might seem to the naked eye. Designs within patterns appear when you take a closer examination.|
Thursday, June 18, 2015
“It’s about time,” I stated emphatically with my hands on my hips.
The words that come out of your mouth are powerful, and in certain instances, they may be harmful, too. You damage another person’s ego faster than you spend a dollar. It’s the voice that conveys the real message I believe.
Dickens deadheaded to the back porch as fast as his little legs would carry his 12-pound body.
He won the cat lottery when he moved into our household. Like a typical feline, he operates on his own schedule, and frankly, it can be exasperating.
Dickens had been wandering outside after the sun had faded into the western sky, and I, the ever-vigilant owner, wanted him back inside away from roaming night critters. He arrived on his own terms — he leads a charmed life — and glanced up annoyingly at me on his way to his feeding bowl.
Not that Dickens knows what “it’s about time” means, but I would suspect that his ears picked up my nervousness about his safety.
“It’s about time” was not a statement that I made as a teacher unless there was a smile on my face and a one-on-one rapport had been established previously. Respect comes from a mutual trusting relationship.
One year in sixth grade I had a very talented writer. He kept telling me about a fantasy novel that he was working on at home while burning the midnight oil. Slaving over his novel often was his excuse for not finishing his homework assignments.
“I’m writing, too, except that I do arrive to work in the morning prepared,” I explained.
My student would be disappointed in me if I weren’t doing my best as his teacher. I expected the same in return.
A lengthy teacher-student talk about priories and multi-tasking apparently must have done the trick in the long run.
The day came toward the end of the year when the twelve-year-old flew in with a huge bundle under his arm. He waited until there was no one at my desk and deposited his manuscript. He scurried off to his seat, and I could see from his eyes peering up at me, that he wanted my reaction. His feet were tapping on the floor wildly and he was anxiously clicking his pen, both rare body language for this normally secure kid.
I examined the cover and flipped through several pages. My first impression was that it appeared better than I had thought originally, and obviously major effort had gone into the project.
I walked over to his desk, and with a slight smile on my face looked at him and proudly said, “It’s about time.”
The look I got back was priceless. We were good to go as teacher-student forever. To this day when his name pops up in my head, I think happy thoughts of the first of many novels he still has in him. I will celebrate when I hear the news of his published book without thinking those words.
During a free period I read the novel, and I was hooked right from the beginning. Knowing that sixth graders with their exuberance of hormones don’t like to be drawn or singled out, I decided a celebration of the event would not be in order. Instead I wrote a long personal note with a coupon for a novel or two from the box that I kept beside my desk as rewards.
“It’s about time,” I said to my California nephew when he finally moved out of his childhood home after college and launched off on his own as a grown-up.
The safety of the family home as a place to nest is what one should have available for necessity and for brief periods. He was not budging, however, and his folks were frustrated. Enter another adult with a fresh set of thoughts and nothing to gain.
I am sure that message from his aunt stung. Point made. Point taken. The next thing that I knew, my nephew had an apartment, and I believe he was happier doing his own thing, too.
Here’s a slightly different spin on the tortoise and the hare fable. Once there was a speedy hare constantly bragging on Facebook about his running abilities.
Tired of hearing him boast, the tortoise challenged him to a race and set up an event page. Why not? He invited all the animals to watch in person, or live stream in their habitats. They placed their bets on the hare’s Go-Fund Me website, the sure winner, even though they secretly were rooting for the underdog.
Now the hare was so confident he sat down on the side of the road, caught up on his texting to friends in neighboring burrows, took a few selfies and snoozed.
The tortoise walked and walked plugged in to his iTune personal playlist.
At the finish line the tortoise glided across while the animals cheered in astonishment. Slow and steady won the race.
The hare woke up hearing all the commotion and sprinted along the racecourse, but it was way too late.
When the panting hare crossed the finish line the animals yelled in unison, “It’s about time.”
The tortoise tweeted his success, granted several interviews to local news media and was the guest of honor at the party. The hare hopped on over, high-fived the tortoise and ate a piece of humble pie.
Monday, June 8, 2015
Today I am reminded of all the students in my elementary classrooms throughout the years that have passed away. Measured in years, their lives were way too short. In quality and contribution to the betterment of others, each one made an immense impact.
One by one, I will picture a face and a name in my mind. A light will shine in my heart for each of them, and I will be glad that I was privileged to share a year of earthly time.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Today is as good a day as any to face our bloopers, errors and embarrassing failures straight on.
I’ll stick my neck out first. Just this week I forgot two, not one, birthdays, lost a bill and accidently didn’t tape the entire interview for an assignment.
I had one of two options: Ignore the matter and fumble on poorly, or make amends, repair the damage and correct my errors.
Those are trivial blips in the greater scheme of things. You and I have had many worse scenarios, and for a few we have cried for hours on end. By faith we have hung on and seen the sun rise over the hilltop.
Not a single one of us gets a free pass.
I came across this sound advice from great international leader, Winston Churchill. “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
No. 1 You are not the first person.
The world is not coming to an end. I spent wasted younger years trying to gloss over situations so I wouldn’t look inept.
Each of us puts on a public face, and it conceals our self-imposed inadequacies.
You have loads of company, and if it makes you feel a little bit better, that person you thought is so perfect at everything hasn’t landed firmly on the ground either.
The media loves to glamorize Hollywood stars and make their lives the ultimate achievement. When a wart appears to blemish them in the eyes of their adoring public, few remember that they are human, too.
It’s all in our attitude. Own up to mistakes, take responsibility and let them go. It is a very hard task not to revisit our mistakes and let them beat us up unmercifully. Certainly, you can learn from them.
No. 2 Things look better after a good night’s rest.
There is something about looking at a dilemma with fresh wide -awake eyes that helps in working toward a sensible solution.
I find it fruitless staying up late trying to solve an issue when I am overtired. It only makes me toss and turn in bed and provoke all sorts of negative energy. Beating up the pillow is pointless.
“Tomorrow is another day.”
My dad always said that things will be brighter in the morning, and I believed him. Now I sing in the shower, get right back to it and my spirits are charged to full capacity.
More often than not, the solution or a new path comes during sleep, too, and upon awakening a possibility occurs from my subconscious.
No. 3 Every invention is the result of multiple failures.
As adults we know our own risk level, and that drives our choices about investments, career changes and practically everything inbetween.
Problem solving and out of the box thinking does not come without failure — nor does any form of artistic creativity.
Two movies out this year attest to great scientific achievements that changed the course of history. In both “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” a lot of experimentation and openness to unusual thoughts brought solutions.
Failure is a good thing to teach young children within a safe environment for not everything works a child’s way and in a timely fashion. Too often children in their selfishness think that the world revolves around them, and expect things to fall into their laps. As a matter of fact, certain adults never rise above it either.
Learning how to be flexible and resilient are excellent skills to instill in young children.
I saw a mother in an airport doing just that thing by example. I thought it was a good teaching moment and I gave her an A plus. A flight was cancelled and she would be taking her brood of children to a hotel for the night and catching a plane to grandma’s house the next morning. She remained as calm as she could in front of the children, and made it seem like an adventure while hand-in-hand they trudged off carrying their backpacks.
No. 4 You do not have to explain yourself.
That’s a hard one. I used to feel that it was necessary. All the time. I don’t anymore.
Frankly, it depends upon the situation. Special people in your life love you for you, and willingly accept everything about you including your flaws. They trust you and your judgment. Nothing needs to be stated.
Throwing a pity party and taking on sympathy as the answer to a problem only sets in motion more of the same. Nothing comes to resolution. There are well-meaning people that will listen to you for hours on end until after a while even those folks will turn away.
No. 5 There is only one way, and it is up.
As bottomless you may think the pit, there is an end if you take charge of your situation and do what you have to do. Perhaps, the change in direction might be the best thing ever when looking back.
You want empathy from others who jump into the pit with you, hold your hand and listen. Those who refocus the conversation back to their own self-interests are not of help.
Look to your trusted mentors for wise advice. It helps to a point getting varied opinions from others through social media, but it is smarter to store up decent friendships with people that will help you through the dark times.
Move over vulnerabilities. Face things squarely.
Friday, May 29, 2015
It never occurred to me at the ripe age of 12 why I couldn’t write an impressive news story from a simple day-to-day event.
I charged full-steam ahead writing eye-catching headlines, stories with high-interest appeal and added to my vocabulary by leaps and bounds.
That was my introduction to the newspaper business. I became the publisher, editor, reporter, typist and delivery gal for the Lincoln Street Gazette.
The summer after seventh grade I was going through a delicate phase similar to girls of my age group slipping into adolescence. Mom wasn’t going to allow me to hang around moaning and groaning without a purpose for days on end, so she proposed that I start a neighborhood newspaper.
The newspaper idea took off like a rocket in my mind thanks to my wise mother who knew exactly what I needed to keep me writing away, and I never looked back.
I couldn’t wait for high school when I could join the school paper as a reporter. I idolized those older kids confidently carrying their reporter’s pads with them and interviewing teachers and football stars — even the principal in his office.
In the meantime a newspaper might be a way for me to learn all about getting the facts straight, asking the tough questions and staying impartial giving both points of view. That meant taking the heat when things didn’t go right, too.
Mind you, our residential neighborhood was quite removed from crime and more socially connected than anything else, so my news beat wasn’t exactly in a high intensity area for controversial happenings.
I began work laying out a plan while sitting on the porch. My mind visualized all the different neighbors that lived on Lincoln Street, and I put their names down in a column in my notebook. I would go visit them on a weekly basis, collect information about their activities while interviewing them.
Our Lincoln Street neighborhood was made up of older retired people and for most of the time that my family lived there my sister and I were the only kids on the block.
My mother regularly visited one set or the other, and I had tagged along enough all my life to know each person quite well — at least I thought I did. The more I sat down and listened to their stories, the more I realized I was chronicling a period of time that would never be repeated.
Several days later I went into action dressing properly in my plaid skirt, white blouse and saddle shoes. Before I left the house Mom reminded me to be careful about what I was going to put in print because certain information might be private, and that someone might not want the rest of the neighbors in on it. She told me to make sure to copy down a quote exactly as it was said, and not to be afraid to ask someone to repeat.
Gathering the news became more captivating than I had ever anticipated, and I filled up my notebook easily just like Lois Lane of Superman fame.
Once I had the news gathered, I wrote it up copying the style of The New York Times. I studied how the reporters opened their stories, and it took effort to get the hang of it. I worked hard not putting my own slant on the news and I thought that I kept straight to the facts, although mom would come out of the kitchen checking every word once last time before the paper went to press — the typewriter, that is.
The hardest part was getting out the Smith Carona portable typewriter, lining up the carbon paper and hunting- pecking on the keyboard. I went along fine for a sentence or two, and I hit the wrong key. With a few utterances out of the corner of my mouth, out flung the paper, and I started again.
I wouldn’t hit the keys hard enough and upon inspecting the third carbon copy, it couldn’t be read. Back to step one over and over until publishing the paper would become a real chore. Often I would go swimming in the afternoon and decide to abandon the whole crazy newspaper idea.
Surprisingly, not a single friend of mine visited when I was working for fear of being trapped into typing.
I recruited my younger sister, — or should I say coerced her — to sell copies for two cents each. When I added up how much I would make a week, I quickly drew the conclusion that 21 copies wouldn’t put very much change in my pocket. I gave away the issues for free as it wasn’t a moneymaking operation.
By August the glamour had tarnished a bit with the behind-the-scene work keeping me glued to the paper’s deadline instead of soaking up the sunshine.
I constantly fretted if I would have enough news, and always in those situations, out of nowhere at the last minute a hot story would save my neck — Mrs. R. gets a new refrigerator delivered.
When I went around to the neighbors delivering the paper, it was well worth it to see the smiles on my customers’ faces.
The Lincoln Street Gazette kept in print sporadically for several years after I joined the high school paper. Long after I left home to go off to college those neighbors still would tell my parents how much the newspaper meant to them.
This summer I am going to decide if there’s a full-length book waiting to be written about those marvelous people long gone who shared their every day lives with the Lincoln Street Gazette during a tranquil decade in our history.