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Sunday, June 26, 2011

What’s your favorite word?

I’m reminded of my mother’s favorite word, which is “spiral”. When I asked her why that particular word, she answered it was the image of the word that sparked her attention. The word described what it is, and she liked the way it sounds.  To better illustrate, as she said the word spiral, she drew a flowing, curling ribbon in the air.  
That got me to thinking, what is my favorite word?  Actually, two words pop to mind—the first one is “brilliant”. This word brings up memories of when I was about 11 years old and my cousin John from Scotland came to visit us. He would say “brilliant” as an adjective, which I had never heard used that way before. I only knew brilliant to describe light’s intensity. It was amazing to me to hear it used as a synonym for excellent, awesome or terrific. When I think of this word, I can still hear his Scottish brogue.
My other favorite word is a Spanish word lástima. This word takes me back to when I worked for a subcontractor and was speaking Spanish every day.   Translated to English, lástima has two meanings—1. a shame or tragedy and 2. an injury. This always puzzled me, so I asked one of the superintendents about it. He replied matter-of-factly, “Well, it’s a shame if you get hurt!” By that logical statement, I never forgot the translation.
Isn’t it amazing how the term favorite can be defined differently—a favorite word can be melodious the second you hear it. Or, as you hear the syllables, it conjures up memories.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Window Show

Stanley hopped onto the back of the plush chair next to the window. He lay down on his belly, settling in the comfort of the extra padding. He was ready for his mid afternoon nap. He had just eaten and drank some water, so his schedule had now become wide-open. He let his tiredness close his amber eyes and he began to drift off to sleep.
“Get out of my way, fatty boombalate!” Jinx cried out. He divebombed next to Stanley, who woke up with a start.
“What did you call me?” Stanley asked, raising his head from his slumber.
“Doesn't matter, I want the window seat!” Jinx snapped, swatting Stanley on his gray ear.
Stanley was about to return in kind, when he spied the Woman walking up to them with a spray bottle full of ice cold water. Since Jinx’s back was toward her, he couldn't see her rapid approach. Quite nimbly, Stanley relinquished his perch, and trotted off to the sliding glass door.
“Yeah, you better run!” Jinx crowed.
 Suddenly, he felt an icy cold sensation against his spine. Suddenly, he felt his normally dry fur on his back become soaking wet.
“Bad kitty!” The Woman scolded. "Don't chase Stanley away! He was there first!"
“AAAHH!” Jinx howled. "I've been hit!”
All the Woman heard was his high pitch hissing.
 Jinx scurried away to the corner of the room where the easy chair and the couch met, forming an alcove of sanctuary. He knew from past experiences that the Woman couldn't fit in this small space. He watched as she turned and walked back into the kitchen. He felt miserable. Not only had his temperature dropped a few degrees, but his lovely fur was soaking wet .He proceeded to give himself a tongue bath, shaking off the excess water from his back.
Stanley, meanwhile, was sitting at the glass sliding door, watching Pepper out in the backyard. She was on patrol, which involved walking the whole perimeter of the backyard starting on the left side of the yard.
Suddenly, her route was interrupted when she caught sight of an annoying blue jay. It had the audacity to land on their apple tree. The blue jay was on the top branch, quietly surveying the yard. He expertly held onto a thin branch, balancing himself against the breeze.
Pepper marched over to the foot of the tree and yelled," Hey you bird! Get away from there!"
The blue jay merely looked down his beak and stared at Pepper with his beady eyes.
"Didn't you hear me?" Pepper yelped." I said get out of that tree!"
Jinx, meanwhile, had finished his grooming.  His fur was back to its normal weight, the orange stripes having its healthy glow. However, his coat did not match his attitude—he was still fuming that he had to dry himself off in the first place. Didn’t the Woman know that it took ages to get his fur to look the way it does?  It takes him hours to get it just right, why would he spend half his day grooming himself?
 “That was really cold, man!" Jinx hissed, as he crept out of his hiding hole.
"I bet that water was cold," Stanley agreed." That's why I got out of the way so quickly!"
"That's not what I'm talking about, and you know it!” Jinx fumed. "You could've at least warned me she was coming!"
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Stanley mused." You were forcing me out of my seat, being as mean as you could be, yet I suppose to do you a favor and tell you that you're going to be punished for your wrongdoings?"
"When you put it that way, it sounds like I did something bad!" Jinx whined.
Before Stanley could issue a retort, they both heard Pepper’s excited barking. The two cats turned towards the window.
"What is she doing out there?" Jinx asked, watching Pepper circle around the apple tree.
"Trying to chase away that bird in the tree," Stanley answered. Suddenly, his eyes widened. "Well would you look at that!"
"What? What?" Jinx puzzled, squinting towards the tree to catch a glimpse of the bird.
"There, behind the back fence," Stanley instructed, placing his paw against the glass door."There is a row of geese."                                                          
"Wow! There must be at least five of them," Jinx surmised.
"You know, last winter, these geese during the whole winter, terrorized Pepper when she was a puppy.” Stanley reminisced.
"Really? I find that hard to believe,” Jinx scrunched up his nose." If there's one thing Pepper hates, it’s birds in her yard!"
"True, but you have to remember Pepper was much smaller last year," Stanley advise. "These Canadian geese were head and shoulders taller than she was. She would bravely run at them when they would get too close to the back fence, but they were all was able to put their necks through the fence and peck at her."
 “What did the Boss and her husband do?" Jinx questioned." After all, they are the protective type.”
"Oh, they would rescue Pepper and chase away the geese before it got too serious," Stanley answered. "But I don't think they're going to need to rescue Pepper now!"
Just as Stanley uttered this, Pepper became aware of the approaching geese. Her nose caught their scents and with that, memories flooded back.  Images of last winter--the terrifying geese pecking at her nose. Even now, her nose felt the sting of their beaks. These memories were laced with emotions and she emitted a low growl.
The geese were marching in a single-file row, making remarks of all things they were passing by.
“Hey, fellows, this yard’s grass looks great!” the leader crowed, looking back at his crew. 
“Yeah, we can lunch on that without being bothered,” the second goose in line agreed.  “There was a stupid little puppy there the last time!"
Slowly, Pepper sneaked up to fence in her best stealth-like manner, crouching low to the ground. When she reached the fence, she saw that the geese had their backs turned to her.  They were too busy conversing if they should stop here or go forward. 
“Get away from my fence!” Pepper growled, baring her teeth.
“Wha—“ the geese turned around in unison and gaped at Pepper. 
“You s-said it was a p-puppy that lived here,” the leader stammered.
“I guess the puppy grew up!” the second in command muttered. “Hey, miss, how are you?” he smiled, trying to lightened the mood. “My, didn’t you turn out to be a lovely dog!”
“Very true! Very lovely!” the other geese nodded vigorously in agreement.
“I’ll give you to the count of three to go away!” Pepper snarled. “Then, I’ll peck your noses using these!” she snapped her large teeth together.
“These pearly whites are stunning!” the leader complimented, trying to be light-hearted.
“One,” Pepper started her countdown with a snort.
“She’s not buying it!” the second in command warned.
“Let’s not be so hasty!” the leader chortled.  “Let bygones be bygones!”
“Two!” Pepper growled, starting to poke her long snout through one of the barriers of the fence.
“We need to leave, now!” insisted the second in command, beginning to flap his wings.
“Before she gets to three!” the others agreed, backing away.
Pepper right now looked every part of the ferocious looking dog. The fur on the back of her neck was standing on end. Her teeth were bared and gleaming.  Her eyes never left the geese as they flew off in V formation. With a satisfied nod, Pepper trotted away from the fence.
The two cats sat riveted to the scene that was taking place outside.
“I never saw Pepper that angry!”  Jinx marveled. “I didn’t think she had that in her!”
“Well, not everyone is impressed as you are,” Stanley countered, motioning to the unwavering blue bird still perched on the apple tree.
Pepper also noticed the invasive bird in the tree. She was a bit surprised it hadn’t flown away with the geese.
“Hey, you!” she barked to the bird. “Didn’t you see what happened at the fence?”
“Yes, I did,” the blue bird chirped. “Very impressive!”
“Yeah? Well then, get out of my tree!” Pepper ordered.
“And what will you do if I don’t?” the blue bird challenged, slightly bending down making the branch bow. “I don’t think you can climb this tree to bite me!”
Pepper realized dejectedly that the bird was right—there was no way she could be a threat on the ground while the bird was perched on the top of the tree. Then an idea struck her.
“Fine then,” Pepper conceded, sitting at the foot of the tree. “I’ll just wait down here. You have the leave the tree sometime!”
“She does realize that bird will fly away when it wants to leave?” Stanley asked.
“Now that’s the Pepper I know! Dumb as a stump!” Jinx snickered, as he settled down for his fifth afternoon nap.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Remarkable people among us

              Isn't it amazing you can meet someone and find something about his/her attitude and outlook in life that has a profound impact on you? That happened to me. I met Valerie over 20 years ago at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and I am still gleaning lessons from our relatively short meeting.
At that time, I was attending a mathematics class for a semester. The teacher was telling us the rules of his classroom. One of the stipulations was no hats. He looked up from his podium and pointed to a girl with a baseball cap. Her ponytail was cascading out of the back of the cap. He remarked he wouldn’t ask her to remove her cap since her hair was styled around it, but please not to wear it again. Of course, at that moment, everyone looked towards her. If that was me, I would be flushed with embarrassment, glaring at the teacher for pointing me out. However, her expression was calm and collected. She smiled and nodded she would not wear it again to his class.
                When the class ended, as I was walking out the door, I noticed she was walking down to talk with the teacher. I had no idea why she would even bother to talk with him. What else could there be to say? If it was me, I would have high-tailed it out of there with my head down, not trying to strike up a conversation with the person who embarrassed me.
                A few days later, I was in one of the cafeterias and happened to see this same girl, minus the baseball cap. She was sitting alone at a table, munching on a salad. I walked over to her and introduced myself. She smiled and invited me to join her.
                The conversation led to our shared class. I couldn’t help myself, curiosity was burning me and I asked her how she felt when the teacher pointed her out for wearing the baseball cap. I told her I thought she handled it well; I personally would have crawled under my seat for the remainder of the class!
                She shared that she apologized to him for wearing the cap. She wouldn’t have worn it had she known about the rule. That day she had decided to wear her wig that had the cap attached. When I gave her a puzzled look, without missing a beat she said she has cancer.
I was speechless-- she was so matter of fact about the disease. She didn’t whisper it or use any euphemisms. She smiled when she recalled the teacher was the one embarrassed about the whole thing. He even offered to make an exception for her, but she refused. She said she had different style wigs and it was no problem.  She shared she made it a point to let all of her teachers know about her cancer, since she was in treatment and couldn’t avoid missing some classes.
                After she said she had cancer, I noticed that her hair was indeed a different length than the first time I saw her in class. Also, she was wearing two layers of clothing and her arms were very thin. I had never met anyone with cancer until now. Her attitude outshone her appearance. She was bubbly, talkative and honest. We got to talking about our majors. She was a biology major, she wanted to know everything about the cancer she had and eventually work on a cure. This was her fifth year at university, but she was classified as a sophomore, like me. She was tethered to her health. Her class load depended on if the cancer was in remission and what kind of treatments she was on. During the whole conversation, not once did she show anger, fear or regret.
 With her attitude as the lead, I did not feel sorry for her, but rather marvel at her courage and strength. I came to a realization that day—it is easy to have a positive attitude when everything is going fine. Valerie had mastered having the same positive attitude when nothing was going her way.  I was so glad I stopped by to meet her.
                After that semester was over, she took a leave of absence. I was able to keep up with her progress through the local news—I wasn’t the only one that saw her as a remarkable person. Throughout the years, she was on steroid treatments, which swelled her body that she looked like a completely different person.  Yet when she spoke, I immediately recognized her unbeatable spirit. When she had to have surgery, she insisted to be awake during it. She wanted to know exactly how the surgeons were performing the operation so she could learn about the tumor. Imagine, being able to take a terrifying experience and turn it into a biology lesson!
                I really wish I could say Valerie fought the good fight and beat the cancer. However, that was not the case.  She passed away after  I graduated from UNLV. However, when I think back to Valerie, I’m not so filled with regret. Instead, I remember the lesson she taught me—find the good things when times get tough. She accomplished so much in her time here on Earth.
               I know she’s in Heaven, with her dazzling smile, wearing her baseball cap with her real hair cascading down. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

We drove and drove to Cottonwood Cove

I’ve lived in big cities all my life, so small towns are so foreign to me. Any town that doesn’t have a shopping mall boggles my mind! How do people survive?! My husband, on the other hand, was born in Darbyville, OH. At the time, the population was less than 100 people. He would joke that they would roll up the streets when the sun went down. He said this affectionately, for he said nothing beats living in a small town.  At this remark, I would look at him as if he grew another head.
Early in our marriage, he talked me into going on a camping trip. I have to admit, I was not thrilled at the prospect of spending a couple of days in a tent. Driving out of Las Vegas, we came across a small town named Cottonwood Cove, NV.  We spied the little restaurant to get some breakfast. I recall the restaurant was small, and clean, with local people milling around the counter. The atmosphere was relaxed and a feeling of down-home permeated through the walls. The locals were in conversations about their daily lives, laughter sprinkled throughout.
 We sat down and started looking through the menu. After I selected what I was going to eat, I looked about the restaurant.  One thing I saw shocked me--it was the cash register.  Actually, it wasn’t a cash register, but a cash drawer full of money sitting by itself on the counter. Being from large cities (Santa Monica, CA and Las Vegas), I had never seen anything like this before in my life. Here was a till full of cash, sitting in plain sight!  I kept thinking surely someone will lock this drawer full of money up, but no one did. There it sat, the food servers going to it periodically to place payments and make change. I worried that someone would rush in and snatch the drawer, and again no one did. This was perfectly normal in their world.
I pointed this out to my husband, who smiled and said, “This is a small town, isn’t it great!” Until that moment in that restaurant, I had no idea why he liked small towns. I always believed large cities had so much to offer—theaters, trendy restaurants, countless stores, bright lights. Of course, big cities offer other things not so desirable—pollution, crime and unfriendliness.  
  For the first time, I let my mind be quiet and enjoyed the simplicity and serenity.  I decided if the opportunity should present itself (which it did a few years later), I wouldn’t shy away from moving to a small town. The move was well worth the trade-off and I have that small restaurant in Cottonwood Cove to thank for this change of heart.