Bending the Rules

One of my favorite fall traditions is an excursion to Pilsen to see the Day of the Dead exhibit (Dia de los Muertos) at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

Lives are grieved for and remembered in special ways through the loving assembly of objects. I am always moved.

This year’s excursion was even more special because a friend was visiting from St. Paul and she was going to experience this unusual collection for the first time.

I wanted our day in Pilsen to be special. Named after the area in Czechoslovakia famous for Pilsner style beer, it’s been the first neighborhood of many immigrant groups as they settled in Chicago. Decades ago, it was home to Eastern Europeans. For quite a few years, Mexicans have been the dominant ethnic group.

Colorful murals adorn the sides of brick houses and corner stores. En route to gentrification, you can spot Starbucks stores next to taquerias. Parking pay boxes have to be fed along 18th Street and other major boulevards.

I did a little research before my friend’s visit. After wandering through the museum, I wanted to take her, and two other friends, to an authentic Mexican bakery for a slice of tres leches cake.

I went online and identified what seemed to be an awesome family run bakery. It was my intention to enjoy tea and split a couple pastries there.

The wonderful aromas of fresh bread, cinnamon, and anise curled up our nostrils as soon as we walked into Panaderia El Acambara. Sweet breads and coffee cakes occupied displays in the center of the store. Racks upon racks upon racks of buttery cookies and flaky empanadas filled the side walls.

I thought they also had tables for patrons to enjoy tea or coffee, but it was only a store.

I studied the selection on the wall. I decided to get a couple dulce de leche empanadas, crescent shaped mini pies filled with a sort of caramel crumble. To bring home, I told myself.

I also asked if there was a place nearby for coffee and tea.

Si. Si… I was directed to a hipster coffee shop that was just down the street, which was good because I had already popped for an hour of parking.

We walked in to find a couple of twenty somethings who had probably been there most of the day.   A thin, pale, aproned barista, waited for our order from behind the counter. He looked at us impatiently as serving us was delaying his scheduled trip to the doorstep for a smoke.

I had every intention of bringing my small white paper bag containing the two dulce de leche empanadas from Panaderia el Alcambaro home with me for a late night snack, but, I looked at the selection of bakeries in the case and had second thoughts.

There were a couple over-sized cookies and four croissants that seemed to predate the last appointment of a woman to the Supreme Court. Not before my lifetime, but definitely too old to be healthy or enjoyable.

As I ordered herbal tea, I asked the barista if we could eat the pastries I just bought.

We don’t allow food from outside, he said matter-of-factly. I nodded and we sat down for tea and banter.

Pretty soon, knowing that dinner was several hours away and something scrumptious inside my little paper bag was begging to be shared, the four of us started to break off pieces of the sweet little pies and slipped them into our mouths. As chunks of the treat melted, we tried to keep silent, but our eyes shouted with delight.

Our indulgence was not lost on the barista. We couldn’t help ourselves… He saw — but he said nothing.

At first, we broke off pieces of the pastries while they were still in the white paper bag. Then we got bolder, laying the crescents on napkins in the middle of the table and continuing to break off bits leaving a puddle of crumbs.

Ah, each bite was the perfect blend of sweetness and butter.

The thought came up that it made no sense for him to enforce house rules more strictly as the four of us outnumbered the other customers and we all spent money on tea, but someone in his position might choose to be more hard-nosed about it.

My foursome enjoyed our visit to the café, even though we were uneasy, at first, about being called out. People’s actions often defy good sense.

Being under the authority of someone who is willing to bend the rules is no small thing.

IT TAKES A COUNTY

ON SATURDAY NIGHT, JULY 15TH, I DIS-LOCATED MY RIGHT SHOULDER.

I’D LIKE TO SAY SOME HEROICS WERE INVOLVED, LIKE I HURLED MY BODY AGAINST A BUILDING IN ORDER TO SAVE A KITTEN FROM A CAR-JACKED, CRAZY, JOY-RIDING TEEN, BUT I ACTUALLY FELL IN MY KITCHEN.

I HAVE BEEN ASKED MANY TIMES, WHAT HAPPENED [I CAN’T TYPE A QUESTION MARK, OR EVEN STANDARD PARENTHESES AND CHANGING FROM UPPER TO LOWER CASE INVOLVES SO MUCH WORK, I HAVE CHOSEN TO FOREGO THE CONVENTION.]

I CAN ATTRIBUTE MY ACCIDENT TO MANY FACTORS THAT CONSPIRED TOGETHER AT 9;50 THAT EVENING. MY BALANCE IS NOT GOOD, TO BEGIN WITH. I HAD NOT PUT AWAY MY STEP LADDER FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN EVEN HOURS AFTER ITS LAST USE. I WAS RUNNING FROM MY OFFICE TO SHUT OFF A BURNER ON THE STOVE AFTER THE SMELL OF A SCORCHED POT REGISTERED IN MY BRAIN.

OH YES. I HAD GONE TO A WINE TASTING AT 4;00.

AFTER THE FALL, IN A MILD STATE OF SHOCK, I MANAGED TO GET UP AND TURN OFF THE LEFT FRONT BURNER. I WENT DOWN A FEW CARPETED HALLWAY STEPS TO SEE IF MY DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR WAS HOME, FORGETTING THAT SHE WAS AT WRIGLEY FIELD AT THE JIMMY BUFFET CONCERT. [OH, TO BE IN MARGARITAVILLE INSTEAD OF IN GREAT PAIN ON MY KITCHEN FLOOR.]

THEN, BEFORE THE SWELLING AND PAIN GOT SO BAD I COULDN’T THINK STRAIGHT, I SAT ON THE EDGE OF MY BED, CELL PHONE IN HAND, AND TRIED TO FIND A FRIEND WHO WOULD TAKE ME TO THE ER AT SWEDISH COVENANT, THE NEAREST HOSPITAL.

MY FRIEND VALERIE WAS HOME. A MASSAGE THERAPIST BY PROFESSION, NURTURING, GOOD-HUMORED AND PRACTCAL SHE WAS THE PERFECT PERSON FOR DRIVING MISS DEBBIE TO THE ER.

AFTER A LONG NIGHT IN THE ER; INCLUDING 2 SETS OF X-RAYS AND RE-SETTING MY ARM BONE IN THE JOINT IT WAS MEANT TO OCCUPY [AN EVENT THAT I WAS, THANKFULLY, UNCONSCIOUS FOR] AND COUNTLESS IBPROFEN, I FOUND MYSELF GRAPPLING WITH HOW I HAD TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY – AT LEAST, FOR A WHILE.

YES, I FELT EXTREMELY GRATEFUL FOR VALERIE’S QUICK RESPONSE TO MY CALL, GRATEFUL TO MY FRIEND PAT, WHO OFFERED SUCH GOOD ADVICE ON THE BEST COLD-PAKS TO BUY, AND WAS EVEN GRATEFUL TO MYSELF FOR NOT LOSING MY SENSE OF HUMOR AS I ENDURED A LOT OF PAIN. [IT WAS PRETTY FUNNY WHEN THE YOUNG MALE NURSE IN THE ER WAS FUMBLING UNDER MY TOP TO REMOVE THE ADHESIVE BACKED METAL MONITORS FROM MY CHEST AND BELLY, AND I TOLD HIM, ‘JUST LIKE WHEN YOU WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL ON A DATE.’]

ALL THIS WEEK, I’VE BEEN FEELING PRETTY HELPLESS. I’VE HAD TO ASK FOR A LOT OF HELP AND I’M NOT USED TO BEING IN THIS POSITION.

ALWAYS BIG ON NOTICING LITTLE THINGS, MY EYES HAVE BEEN OPENED TO THE MANY THINGS I MAY HAVE TAKEN FOR GRANTED JUST TO MANAGE EVERDAY ROUTINES. THESE THINGS ARE RIGHT IN MY FACE NOW THAT I AM DEPENDENT ON OTHERS.

MY DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR TOOK CARE OF MY DOG FOR THE WEEK FOLLOWING MY FALL. I’VE BEEN ABLE TO RE-DISTRIBUTE MOST OF MY PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS AMONG CO-WORKERS. MY FRIEND NICKI CAME OVER THIS PAST FRIDAY, BRINGING ME WONDERFUL HOMEMADE PULLED PORK, CHANGING MY BEDSHEETS AND CLEANING MY KITCHEN.

I’VE LINED UP SEVERAL DIFFERENT PEOPLE TO WALK MY DOG [WE WERE REUNITED 2 DAYS AGO]. INDIA TAKES WALKS THREE TIMES A DAY. I HAVE TAKEN A CAB ONCE, BUT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ARRANGE RIDES TO MY D.O. FOR THERAPY AND FOR GROCERY RUNS.

THANKS TO HILLARY, FOR RAISING A CHILD TOWARDS A HEALTHY, PRODCTIVE ADULTHOOD, WE HAVE THE EXPRESSION, ‘IT TAKES A VILLAGE.’ CONSIDERING HOW MANY PEOPLE GRACIOUSLY STEPPED FORWARD SO THAT I COULD SIMPLY HANDLE THE NEEDS OF MY DAILY LIFE, I MIGHT SAY, ‘IT TAKES A COUNTY.’

WE’RE NOT MEANT TO LIVE ALONE. WE ARE MEANT TO HELP EACH OTHER…AND MEANT TO RECEIVE HELP. WE’RE MEANT TO FEEL LOVED AS MUCH FOR OUR VULNERABILITIES AS WE MIGHT LONG TO FEEL ACKNOWLEDGED AND APPRECIATED FOR OUR TALENTS AND SERVICE.

I AM SO GRATEFUL TO SO MANY.

HAVING FRIENDS WHO WILL CUT YOUR VEGETABLES AND UNSCREW THE TOPS OF YOUR VITAMIN JARS IS NO SMALL THING.

 

Ahhhhh! Thanks

I’m not one to fuss about my appearance. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes or haircuts.

I don’t read fashion magazines that feature List-icles, short articles with How-To instructions like 10 Ways to Arch Your Brow.

But the other week, I was taken over by some sort of summer fever. I knew I would be mostly wearing sandals for months and decided to indulge in a pedicure.

OMG. Where should I start? I asked myself. I hit YELP and other online resources for places in my neighborhood that didn’t require much advanced notice and didn’t cost too much. I looked at a couple reviews, too.

I decided on a place in Lincoln Square. I made an appointment in one hour (Like I said, it was a spur of the moment impulse). I found the place to be clean and BUSY, surprisingly busy for 11:00 on a weekday morning.

There was a drying station in the front of the salon, near the register (small blowers for hands and feet), and stacks of those magazines I referred to as being full of beauty list-icles. I also observed one of the nail techs, filling up Day-Glo, jelly-like baskets with flip-flops.

Like an over-enthusiastic hostess in a Tiki lounge, a petite woman of some flavor of Asian extraction greeted me; the manager, no doubt. She laughed when I confessed I had a pedicure only one other time in my life.

She introduced me to my tech who then led me to a wail of polish colors. Considering my lack of experience, I surprised myself that I seemed to know what I wanted.

“I want red. Not orangey red, or wine colored. Dark red…”

I was led over to an oversized massage chair with a small, floor-istalled basin at the front. She instructed me to make myself comfortable and showed me how to work the controls on the massage chair while I put my feet in the basin.

I ended up turning the power on the chair off. I just wanted to focus on my feet.

She opened a plastic bag sealed kit as she began to run water into my foot tub.

Ahhhhhhh.

One foot at a time…

I dipped one foot in the swirling water while she worked on my other foot. She removed the hard skin with a sort of pumice stone. She clipped my nails, laughing at how long they were. She put exfoliant and lotion on my lower legs and massaged my calves.

I tried not to stare at the man who was picking out polish colors and was led to the chair next to mine for his pedicure. Why shouldn’t a man enjoy this, too?

After my feet were clean and smooth, my chosen RED was applied and an odd rubber contraption was placed on my feet to create space between my toes.

A pair of flip-flops was slipped on to my feet, and I was led to the drying station.

I felt terrific!

The whole process took less than an hour, and I saw what a big difference it made in my mood and outlook.

Okay, I liked the thought of dressing my feet in summer sandals, but I found the whole experience to be consciousness-raising.

It’s so easy to take something – like your feet — for granted. We tend to give a part of our body attention when it hurts, but not when it feels good. Not often enough.

Pampering yourself seems to be a good way to train your consciousness to do those things that are good for you. It’s good to remember that a task is not completed until it is celebrated.

Whether it’s making time to do stretches in the morning or, periodically, to have a pedicure, I want to nurture good routines, including treating myself well. I’m glad I gave myself this brief retreat.

Jumping into a new habit — feet first — is no small thing.

 

Flow Moment

Last week, when I was taking my dog, India, out for her morning walk, I found myself stopped in front of a modest Chicago brick two-flat.

I wasn’t sure why I stopped.

It was 7:00 AM and quiet. Very few cars were moving along the narrow street and commuters were not yet scurrying off to the nearby train station. India was not curling her butt down in preparation for her toilet routine, nor was she stationed motionless in front of a tree, waiting for a squirrel to come down and rejoin her on the earth plane.

I felt compelled to stop as if some invisible force wanted me to notice something –- and damn if I could figure out what was special.

Unconsciously, I took a deep breath in. I tried to decode the mixture of fragrances of springtime flowers my neighbors planted along their small, neat front lawns.   I scanned the street for activity, looking for other dogs (and their people) that we should try to navigate around.

A small bead of sweat rolled down my back. I thought about the dew point and conjectured that it would be getting uncomfortably humid as the day wore on. I mean, if I was sweating already this early in the morning….

What was special? Nothing and EVERYTHING.

I don’t take the same route every morning. And today, I found myself looking at an odd sort of fountain in front of a home on Eastwood.

The fountain itself was noticeably out of place. A stone figure, like a 15th century Botticelli angel, poured water from one pot into another vessel. It belonged in Rome or at Versace’s ornately decorated mansion in South Beach.

But here it was in 60625.

I tuned in to the sound of the water flowing. Ah, what is it about the sound of water?…

I thought about people who like to sleep near the ocean so they can hear the sound of waves. I thought about my own childhood in Melrose Park.

There used to be a small channel that ran along the perimeter of the modest shopping center on the corner of North and 9th. We called it Silver Creek and, to some extent, it was more of a dumping ground than a body of water.

Before everyone was concerned about environmental impact, people threw all sorts of things into Silver Creek. It was rumored to have gotten its name because Sherwin Williams, which had a manufacturing plant nearby, used to dump paint into it, giving the water a grayish tint.

As a twelve year-old, when hanging over the rail of the tiny pedestrian bridge that crossed it, I’d see crumpled soda cans, store flyers and coupons soaking in maybe 6” of water, tree branches, large stones, abandoned shopping carts other kids pushed in on a lark…

And still the current flowed. The direction and force of the stream changed depending on the curves of the channel at any point and the randomly landed objects, the garbage, the water had to move around.

Silver Creek was basically full of crap –- and yet it flowed.

There is something so comforting about the way water flows… despite obstacles, despite limited volume. Its movement is purifying and generous. Whether coming from mountains, or from larger bodies of water, it flows until there is no more.

I know the flowing water of the small lawn fountain in front of me worked with the help of electricity, but in its own magic, I could feel the pull of gravity and the pull of my own conscious focus. The sight and sound of the cascade brought me to so many different places while I stood still in one place. I felt so grateful.

I feel grateful for anything that makes me stop and take a deep breath; listen with unexpected openness; think of journeys instead of destinations; marvel at the notion of movement — even if it’s subtle, even if something is traveling only inches or from one container to another; grateful to be reminded of ways to refresh myself…

Stopping in front of a fountain, and basking in a flow moment, is no small thing.