Put A Smile On

Every day is a great day. “What a minute, Ray. You don’t a bad day? Are you on work release from a rehab center?”

“What a minute, Ray. You don’t have a bad day? Are you on work release from a rehab center?”

“I’m serious, every day is a great day. Every day you can find to give you a bit joy, a touch of happiness, a hint of love. Put it together and you had a great day.”

“What about when everything goes wrong. I mean everything goes wrong.

“I see I’m dealing with a cynic. I’m dealing with a dude who’s bent over, cramped up, looks like he waiting curbside for the mortuary van. “Come on, let me see the edges turn up. When was the last time you smiled? Sing it buster.”

“There’s nothing to smile about. You watch the news? You read the online blogs? You follow politics, terror, crime.”

“I know the problem. If I know the problem. I can suggest an antidote. Don’t delay, your life hangs in the balance.”

“Hey tone it down a bit. I can hear you.”

“You kidding me. It’s a great day and tomorrow has all the making of an even better day. And, I’m FDA approved.”

“Are you dangerous? Or, simple minded?”

“I’m neither depressed dude. Here’s the deal. It’s your diet. Plan and simple. I’m putting you on a one month diet. It’s rough. You’re going cold turkey. Actually, cold turkey is better than turkey left out on the cabinet for a week.”

“I’m suffering enough. How much longer do I have to listen to you?”

“I’m doing the writing, so you’ll have to hang around as long as I want you to hang around.”

“Let’s get it over so I can rest.”

“No listening to cable news shows. No listening to the talking heads who think they have every answer. Watch the comedy channel. Read inspiring books. Take extended walks in nature. Meet every one of your neighbors. And, most importantly, do two kind acts a day. Do it all for a month and you’ll be The dude, not a depressed dude.”

“Do I have to?”

“Afraid so. If you don’t, I’ll bring you back in the next blog.”

“I’m on it.”

happy children

Gypsy, The German Shepherd’s Wisdom

I had a German Shepherd. Her name was Gypsy. One of my daughters painted a portrait of Gypsy I keep hanging on a wall. If you’ve had a pet you’ve considered a friend, you can understand the relationship I had with Gypsy.

She was an athlete. She could run with the wind. Catch Frisbees tossed at seemingly impossible angles. I’d toss a tennis ball sixty feet in the air and she’d snag as if she were playing centerfield in the majors. Most of all, Gypsy was a friend. Where I’d go, Gypsy wouldn’t be far behind. I’d often go in the yard with Gypsy to relax. She had a way of helping me forget work and setting aside other things holding my mind captive.

Today, I picture Gypsy lying on the ground in front of me. She has a look in her eye, partly mischevious, partly playful, and always loving. In my mind’s eye, I ask Gypsy, “Tell me about life, Gypsy. You enjoy every moment. What’s your secret?”

Gypsy cocks her head a bit to the side and gives me a quizzical look. She says, “Ray, what’s all the fuss? Lighten up.”

“Easy for you to say Gypsy. Cut me a little slack.”

Gyspy shakes her head, “I’m going to give you special dog secrets.”

I look incredulously at her, “Dog secrets?”

“That’s right, dog secrets. Heads up. If you nod off, I’ll wake you with a ferocious bark.”

“I’m all ears, don’t take that remark personally.”

I think she is smiling. Some claim dogs don’t smile, but I believe Gypsy smiled all the time.

Gypsy says, “Don’t interrupt me. I’m giving you wisdom that’s evolved in the canine breed over ions.”

“I’m waiting.”

“Whenever you get a chance, curl up in the sun and enjoy its warm rays. If you can do it on the sofa, all the better. When someone you love comes through the door, meet them, greet them, and hug them. Whatever food is served, be grateful for it, it’s all good and it’s all going to the same place. Get exercise – plenty of it. Exercise is always better when you’re doing it with someone you love. Most of all, enjoy the moment. Don’t think ahead. Tomorrow comes quick enough. And, be loyal, protect those you love. After all, we’re family. It’s all good, Ray. It’s all good,

Thank you, Gypsy. Thank you for your enduring wisdom.

German Shepherd

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t

Well before talk of walls and pathways to citizenship, I met Consuelo Garcia (the first name is real, I kept the second name private). Consuelo is an American citizen by birth. Her parents crossed into the U.S. somewhere along the Rio Grande illegally. She was born two years after her parents settled in San Antonio. The first of seven children. When I met Consuelo, she was 35 years old.

Consuelo’s father worked as a day laborer getting jobs wherever he could find one. Her mother worked as a maid in the homes on the North side of San Antonio. I relate Consuelo’s story as she told it to me.

Consuelo was an excellent student. In high school, her GPA was 4.0. (My note: I only saw a 4.0 in a dream). She never received a grade lower than an A in all her college prep courses. In the fall of her senior year, she went to her guidance counselor to seek advice on how to apply to college. The counselor said, “The girls in this school (98% Mexican-American) get pregnant and get a job. That will probably happen to you. Let’s talk about the kind of job you want.”

Consuelo walked out of the counselor’s office crying. That night she told her parents what happened. Her uneducated father and mother were angry. They told her they would take her to university and find out how to apply. The next morning, Saturday, they drove to campus. Not much was happening. All offices were closed. They walked around campus and found the library. The entered the library. A staff member saw the bewildered look on their faces and asked if she could help. Consuelo spoke to the staff member (her parents’ English was limited). The staff member brought her application materials and made sure she understood what she had to do.

Four years later, Consuelo graduated from the University magna cum laude. I met Consuelo in my graduate level Change Class. She was and is a remarkable woman of courage.

Consuelo’s story is one of courage, tenacity, and believing in dreams.

Today, I will continue to believe in my dreams. I will have the courage and tenacity to chase them, no matter the challenges. Hoping you do the same.


No Advanced Degree Needed

I want to be like the unnoticed people who cross my path. The quiet, unassuming, kind, responsible, and compassionate people. The man and woman who quietly lend a helping hand, offer a smile, do what they are supposed to do, and take the time to listen. They are the superglue holding us together.

It’s Marsha, one of the cashiers at my market. It doesn’t matter what time of day, what day of the year I go through her line, her smile lights up the sky. She never forgets to say, “How are you doing? I hope your day is a good one.” I leave feeling good and ready to pay it forward.

It’s my neighbors Tina, Andrea, Lucy, Doug, and Fran. There is always time for a hello, and a willingness to step up whenever needed. Don’t have to ask, they know. It’s as if they receive cosmic messages a neighbor needs them. They don’t make excuses. They show up. Sleeves rolled up, Happy to pitch in. Knowing I have neighbors who care brings a rainbow over my home each day.

It’s my Starbucks barista. She knows me by name and my drink, “Venti dark roast, no room for cream, right, Ray?” The unnoticed people abound. They’re everywhere. I imagine you’re one of the unnoticed people. You go about doing your job, being kind, taking time for someone who needs a helping hand. It’s a simple thing. No advanced degree needed. People making other people feel welcome.  People pitching in and helping other people – all done without headlines,

It’s a simple thing. No advanced degree needed. People making other people feel welcome.  People pitching in and helping other people – all done without headlines, notoriety, or fanfare. It goes unnoticed by everyone except the person on the receiving end who is grateful.

Today, I will be one of the unnoticed people, making all I meet feel welcome and passing along a smile.


I Love To Cook – Really?

Okay, I get it. Everyone who cooks loves to cook. That’s my take from watching he Food Channel. Reading food blogs. And, checking out recipes on Pinterest. I take a sip of my truth serum, Starbucks with added red eye. For the non-coffee drinker, a red eye is a shot of espresso. Make it a double, por favor. Me? It’s not that I don’t like cooking, I like so many other things so much better. I like watching ESPN. I like exercising. I like drinking coffee. I like staring at sunsets. I like staring at my iPhone. I place cooking on the same level as flossing and brushing. I have to do it. It’s good for my health.

For me, cooking comes down to choices. I can choose to go out to eat or I can cook at home. If I choose to eat out, oh the choices. I’m not paying for a heart attack on a plate or stuffed into a to-go bag. I don’t want salmonella wrapped in a large tortilla. I want to eat as healthy out as I eat at home. This is where the rubber hits or the road or the skillet sits on the stove. I think about my choices, until ….

I read the San Antonio Health Department inspection reviews. You a fan of horror stories? Check them out. You like to live on the edge? You can put your life on the line with any D rated restaurant. I’d rather skydive. Swim with killer sharks. Or, babysit. Let me help you make the decision. The following are word for word from the city’s health inspection site:

  1. Observed tortilla dough stored in grocery bags.
  2. Vegetables from the field, not processed to remove dirt and bacteria, should not be stored above ready to eat and processed vegetables.
  3. During the time of inspection raw bacon was being stored alongside uncooked biscuit dough.
  4. Not clean. Food debris was observed on inside surface of lids on top of the cooler where lettuce, tomato, and other condiments are stored are not clean.

The reports are from four different restaurants with respectable reputations. Who calls the toilet first? It is for this reason when I go to a restaurant, I slowly sip my drink and watch the people with whom I’m dining dig in. I give them a minute before I sample the cuisine. If I don’t see any adverse reaction. It’s okay to eat. Do you think I’m being a bit tacky? I’m the safety net. I have my iPhone in hand. I punched in 911 and all I have to do is call. Caution is the operative word. I don’t want to get descriptive on what the downside looks like. Although, I know some guys who went to high school with me might like that kind of humor.

Here’s what I don’t like about cooking. I really, really try hard to cook healthy. The health inspector will give me an A if I had a surprise visit. It takes me anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to prepare and cook my dinner. He’s only cooking for one you say. I hear you. I need an efficiency expert. Where is Bobby Flay? Raise your hand. Not you. You’re not Bobby Flay. You’re Bobby Filet. That’s not the way he spells his name. Security!

I set the table. I treat my food with respect. I say grace before I eat. I raise my drink and toast Babe. I eat. fifteen to twenty minutes later I’m done. It takes me a half hour to clean up, make sure the kitchen area is germ-free for breakfast. Let’s add it up. Ninety minutes of not eating time. Fifteen minutes of eating time. Thinking about this, I moved cooking ahead of brushing and flossing. I moved it ahead of cleaning the shower. It right up there with cleaning the ….


What Can I Do? I’m One Person

It was a gorgeous fall early October day. Dr. Joe had some free time, no meetings, no classes to teach. He decided he’d walk over to the football practice field and watch the team practice. They were 4-0. His feet kick at the chestnuts that fell from the trees, The leaves were starting to turn. He felt good. Good about life. Good about his work. Good about his family. He saw the players in the practice jerseys a hundred yards ahead. The sounds of hitting, and grunting, and coaches shouting instructions added to his good feeling for the day.

Makeshift bleachers were set up for anyone who wanted to watch practice. Girlfriends, students, townies, and a few other faculty made up a sparse showing. He looked to the top row. He spotted a student he knew. He climbed the ten rows, smiled at the students and said, “Mind if I sit here? You hurt?”

Mike Nestor nodded and gave Dr. Joe a half smile.

How come you’re not out on the practice field?” Dr. Joe said.

“It’s a long story.”

“I got time,” said Dr. Joe.

“Last Monday I was in my Contemporary U. S. History class. Dr. Blaine begins class by asking each of us to name the country our ancestors came from. I’m in the first row, five seats back. I hear Poland, Germany, Switzerland, and Ireland. Then it’s my turn. Before I can speak, he says, “Never mind Mike, your ancestors were probably slaves and you have no idea what country your ancestors came from. I got up, flipped him off and walked out. He reported me – The coach told me he had to talk the administration out of tossing me out for the semester and taking away my scholarship.”

“You’re kidding?”
“Honest. Every word is true. You know there are 16,000 students here and only three percent are of color. Most of us are from the city.”

“You going to appeal or do anything? said Dr. Joe.”

“What can I do? I’m one person?”

Dr. Joe looked at Mike, “I’ll do something.”


“I don’t know, but I will do something.”

Dr. Joe met with the provost and asked if he could meet with a focus group of African-American students to learn more about their experience on campus. The provost reluctantly agreed, but added, “You’re okay being the only white person in the room?”

Dr. Joe looked at the provost, chose not to say what he wanted to say, and offered,  “It’s the way I want it.”

A week later Dr. Joe sat at the head of a long table with 15 African-American students, he asked, “Can you share your experience as an African-American student on campus?” The room was silent. He sat in the silence. The students fidgeted. He started to think no one would speak, when a woman raised her hand and said, “My name is Veronica, I’ll tell you what it’s like. I’m a junior. I was in communication lab class last week and the instructor came to me and said, ‘You have so much potential. You have a chance to make it big.’ I was elated until he said, ‘You only have to learn to do one thing, talk white.’ He walked away.”

Her comments opened the floodgates of similar stories. Dr. Joe took his data to the university president. Two months later leaders from the African-American students and leaders from the student body met with him and an external consultant to create a dialogue to make the university culture more inclusive. Mike was one of the student leaders. In two days, the students joined together and collaborated on a plan. Dr. Joe and the external consultant stood at the edge of the room and watched change take place.

This is a true story. I changed some names and didn’t mention the name of the university. When you’re on the moral high ground, you are a majority, no matter how many are against you. Today, I choose to stand up and make a difference.


The Third-Grade Boy

The third-grade boy walked nearly a mile to school each day. He barely lived outside the school bus boundary. Each day he walked across the railroad tracks almost adjacent to the tenement building where he lived in a four-room flat with his brother and parents. He wore the only pair of pants and shoes he had. His mother washed his pants each night and hung them by the stove to dry.

He had no idea what he’d become. His mom and dad worked in nearby shoe factories. His favorite uncle was a career soldier in the army. Another uncle a mechanic. And, another a truck driver. His thoughts didn’t travel far beyond the limitations of his immediate experience. Until …

It all changed for him when he went to third grade. The school he attended had two third grade teachers. All second graders knew the best teacher was Miss Pope. She was young and pretty. The other teacher was Miss Thompson. She old, really old, maybe as old as the school as one boy put it. Worse, she was mean. Mean to the core. She didn’t know how to smile another of the third-grade boy’s buddies added.

During his final week in second-grade, he prayed he’d get Miss Pope. He prayed as hard as he prayed for anything. When he was handed his second-grade report card, his heart sunk. His final second-grade report card gave him the good news and bad news. The good news, he was promoted to third grade. The bad news, his third-grade teacher was Miss Thompson. The mean, unsmiling, old, really old Miss Thompson.

Miss Thompson stood by the doorway each morning and in her no-nonsense way, welcomed each child by name. The boy tried hard in her class, after all, she was the meanest teacher in school. No sense making an enemy right away. It was near October when Miss Thompson stopped the boy on his way into class. She grabbed hold of him by his shoulders. He looked at her wide-eyed. His mind racing to a small fight on the playground after school. He hoped no one ratted him out.  Miss Thompson bent over and looked into his eyes and said, “From today on, I’m going to say to you, ‘Good morning governor, because I believe one day, you’ll become governor of our state. Now, work hard and you’ll do it.”

The boy went to his desk and he worked hard for Miss Thompson. He was determined to become governor. Well, Miss Thompson retired ten years later and died a few years after she retired. But, the third-grade boy remembered her lesson. He didn’t become governor, but he worked hard, and he believed. He discovered hard work, determination, and a belief he was capable of doing something special made it all come true.

You never know when you touch a person. Encouraging a young person to dream the impossible, often turns the impossible into the possible. I know. I was the third-grade boy.

crossing the tracks