Friday, February 24, 2006

Sibling Rivalry Part II

Mission accomplished !

Peaches and Mocha have been getting along just splendidly. They're both playful and energetic, and the last couple of weeks have been filled with them romping around, chasing each other back and forth, and playing hide-and-pounce games with one another. All in good fun; no hissing, growling or fluffed tails. Peaches is definitely the dominant one, but Mocha gets her swats in just as well.

What I saw the other day as I was working at my computer absolutely confirmed, without a doubt, that the integration of these two lovely kitties was successful:

I love these two. (sniff)

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Is Tipping Mandatory ? My Answer.

My friend Matthew recently wrote on his own blog asking the question of whether or not tipping is mandatory. He and his friend were insulted by a bartender's loud complaining that they had not tipped him for dispensing their drinks. This is my take on the issue he raised.

My first question is, why didn't they tip the bartender when they received their drinks ?

It is the culture and the norm in this country to give a tip to the bartender every time an alcoholic drink is dispensed and paid for. That is how it is, and how it always has been for as long as I can remember. I don't know of anyone who tips at the end of the night. Those who tip will do so at the time that the drink it paid for. So I'm not sure of the rationale behind the withholding on the night in question.

In the same vein, Danny mentioned once that he knew someone who never tipped the pizza delivery guy. He didn't know why this person refused to do this, however, it was a practice that was very unpopular among the deliverers. I ask again, why is this necessary ? Why would anyone refuse to tip them ? One rebellious person will not change a complete cultural norm, especially one that is, by nature, a kind, generous, and positive thing to do.

There are times when giving a small tip, or none at all, is understandable. Poor service, rude comments, multiple errors - all are situations where one can choose to withhold or reduce the tip amount accordingly. There is no dispute about that. However, it is my belief that deliberately withholding a tip for any other reason, especially when the person performing the service did an adequate job, is unnecessarily malicious.

I agree with Matthew there are times when the expectations of a tip are significantly out of line. It is not required or expected to shell out cash to every ice cream shop tip jar. I'll get my own towel in the club bathroom, thank you. The driver of the bus at the airport doesn't necessarily warrant a tip, but he will get one if he helps me load and unload my heavy, awkward bags. Either way, I am aware that it is a simple matter of courtesy for a fellow human being who is working hard to help me out.

Let's face it, being in public service of any kind is difficult work. It amazes me how workers in that industry can find it possible to put on a smile and give courteous and helpful service when faced with the multitude of customers taking out their misplaced frustrations and personal agendas on them. The bartender who berated the non-tipping customers out loud will likely not last in that job much longer. A much thicker skin is required for someone in that type of position. But there are many more, unlike him, who face these situations on a daily basis, and who still treat everyone with respect. They deserve to be rewarded for that.

Those who work in the service industry are just like the rest of us; working hard to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Only a scant few do not perform their duties adequately and with respect. The vast majority are well deserving of the accepted practice of giving a tip. To choose not to do so is one's right, but is also rude, arrogant and disrespectful to that person, that human being on the other side of the counter.

So Matthew, to answer your question, yes, tipping the bartender when he's doing an acceptable job is mandatory. So please do it. If not always, at least when you're with me. Ok ?

Otherwise, feel free to stay at home and pour your own drinks.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Grief, Loss and Healing

This week has been a difficult one for quite a few people around me. One such person, my coworker Allan, was back on the job after the death of his wife two months ago. He is based in England, but flew to the Bay Area for a week-long business trip. I stopped to talk to him a few days ago at his temporary cube, to ask how he was doing.

He showed me four pictures that he keeps in his wallet. One of her when they first met, 16 years ago. Two more a few years apart. The last one less than a year ago. All of them showed a gregarious smile, beautiful in its own right. The final one showed some signs of fatigue, obviously from all the chemotherapy and related medical procedures. But there was a fire in her eyes, a constant strength that permeated through the pain and discomfort evident on her face. I could see this, and I never knew her.

She was always laughing, he said, always joking, always making light of every situation, no matter how hopeless. Some nights, when the sickness rendered her unable to sleep, they would go out driving in the middle of the night, chatting, stopping for coffee at any place that was open. She was strong. And so was he.

His eyes misted over slightly as he recounted the events of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. She had fallen asleep, propped up as always, giving her weak, compressed lungs as much space as possible to breathe. Her sippy cup, still in her hand when she drifted to sleep, fell over and drenched his shoulder. They both woke up and giggled and laughed at the accident. Then, when she got up to go to the bathroom, she collapsed.

Ghost-white face. Perilously low blood pressure. Fast, thready pulse. He knew what this meant. Even on the way to the hospital, with the best of medical care, he knew that surgery would not be an option. If she was, in fact, bleeding internally as the symptoms indicated, the chance of survival would be slim.

That night, she passed away.

As he told me this, his emotions got the better of him. He bowed his head and whispered "sorry" while he tried to compose himself. I put my arm around him and let him feel what he needed to feel, until he could speak again. That was what he needed at the time.

I didn't talk much; actually, hardly at all, throughout our entire conversation. He needed to talk. He needed someone to listen. So that is what I did for him.

This past week was filled with heartbreaking and tragic occurrences for people I am acqianted with, and with each one, I am reminded that every person is different.

Chad, when he learned his paraplegic college friend had passed away at the tender age of 37, was content with a few kind words over IM. He declined my offer to call him on the phone; the IM chat was all he needed. Rakesh, after breaking up with his longtime girlfriend, spoke a little over lunch, and then changed the subject to a cheerier topic. Danny, whose former coworker passed away from cancer after a very short battle, was comforted by talking about the departed, his short life, and how he knew never to take anything for granted. Matthew, whose vehicle was broken into for the second time, just needed to vent. And of course there was Allan, who really needed an understanding ear and a shoulder to cry on.

Every person is different. Everyone deals with grief, loss and disappointment in their own way. There is no such thing as "right" or "wrong". It just is. Now, more than ever, I understand this.

Everyone should be allowed to feel the way they feel; to grieve in the way that they need to, and to mourn their losses the best way that they can. I've always made it a point to allow those who reach out to me to do just that. I strive to be their safe haven, their soft place to land, the non-judgmental friend who will validate their feelings and help them heal. In whatever way they need to.

Maybe that is why they reach out.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sibling Rivalry

I'm a busy person. There is no doubt about it. I sometimes work long hours, and almost always have a sport or social event on any given weeknight. Add that to a plethora of weekend activities, and I am home for only a few precious hours a day. Some time ago, I noticed that Peaches, my cat that has been with me for 2 years, was becoming rather upset when I'd get home after a long absence. I figured I would bring her home a little friend to keep her company.

Enter Mocha. A 10-month-old Bengal kitten, with a wonderfully sweet personality and an inherent love for toys and running water. I figured that the two of them could keep each other company during the day, followed by a shiny happy reunion of cute music and dancing fairies when I returned.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.

Peaches was not happy at the new addition to our little family. She would stalk and intimidate Mocha, to the point that Mocha would stay in her crate for hours on end, too afraid to even go to the litterbox 2 feet away. Mocha was scared out of her mind, and Peaches was being a brute.

It was time for a Slinky intervention. It was time for me to appoint myself the Kitty Referee !

I kept Mocha in the spare bedroom, with her food, water, litterbox and a whole assortment of toys while I was out. Every night, I came back to find the room in varying stages of disarray; cat toys, my slinkies, stuffed animals, all strewn around the room. Hey, at least the cat was having fun. I'd put the room back together, only to come back to it being trashed the next day. No problem !

The big issue was Peaches. She was constantly aggressive and intimidating, even using Mocha's litterbox when I had the door open, to assert her dominance. I don't mind Peaches being the dominant cat. She is the stronger personality after all. But I can't have her chasing Mocha around and causing her to use her crate as a litterbox. So I put on the virtual striped uniform and started to referee.

Every time Peaches put herself into her stalking stance, I'd gently put her on her side, lying her down in a submissive pose. Every time she made aggressive moves, I'd say "Hey !" or "No !". If she started walking towards Mocha, I'd say "Peaches, be good !" in a warning tone. And every single time Peaches gave chase, she'd get a timeout.

Just like kids.

Well guess what. It worked ! Peaches learned, very quickly, that going after Mocha would result in 10 minutes in the bathroom with the light off. If I even say one word in that warning tone, she backs off. She knows I won't let her be a bully. She knows she'll get a timeout if she's bad. So she behaves. Just like a smart child would.

This morning, the two of them were jockeying for a space on the bed beside me. To my surprise, Mocha swatted at Peaches to protect her spot. Peaches swatted back, then fell sleep.

Later, as if thumbing her nose, Mocha proceeded to use Peaches' litterbox.

That's my girl !

I left them integrated today when I went to work. Hopefully their fur will be intact when I return.

I think they'll be fine.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

My Little Helper

Like most people with very busy schedules, I habitually catch up on my errands and housework on the weekends. This weekend was no exception. In the midst of bustling around, I realized I had run out of laundry soap, among other things. I left the washing machine door open, dirty laundry inside, to remind myself to start the load once I returned from shopping.

When I arrived back at my apartment, I was greeted by this:

The worst part ? She was happily sleeping on my sweaty, stinky karate uniform. I hope she enjoyed the experience.

Too bad cats can't be trained to actually do the laundry themselves. They could probably do a better job of folding than I can.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


For as long as I can remember, I've never liked soup. My mom worked evenings for a short stint when we were younger, leaving my father to take care of my two sisters and I. He didn't know how to cook then, so every night, he would make us soup from a can. I don't remember any of this. I must have become sick of canned soup after multiple successive days and weeks, as I can't stand it now. It makes my stomach turn.

There are a very select few soups that I do enjoy, of course. Stracchiatella, the soup that we serve at our Italian family weddings. Vietnamese pho. And of course, my mom's chicken soup.

Homemade. From scratch, because that is how her own mother did it. I remember standing on the old, tattered stool in my childhood home, just barely able to peek over the counter, helping her cook and bake. It always made me feel like I was doing something important. I'd pour the water into the pot. I'd put ingredients in, being careful not to splash. Of course I couldn't handle a knife very well for fear of cutting myself. But in my own mind, I was helping create something really, really good.

Nothing artificial in this soup. Chicken. Vegetables. Herbs. That little star-shaped pasta. A can of peeled tomatoes, the only thing that was preserved in the entire concoction.

It took a couple of hours to bring this dish to fruition. But it was always delicious.

It wasn't just chicken soup; it was Mom's chicken soup. It always satisfied my hunger, and brought me comfort during those cold Canadian winters.

Now, as an adult, 2,600 miles away and in a place where it never snows, her recipe still brings me the same comfort, reminding me of home, warming my soul. And as I chop the ingredients and place them in the big, simmering pot, I am again that little girl standing on the stool, peeking over the counter in anticipation and wonder.

"Have some soup," she used to say. I never turned down that warmth, emanating not only from the pot, but from the heart.

Thanks, Mom.
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