abe villarrealAbe Villarreal is the Dean of Student Success at Cochise College. He enjoys writing about people, pastimes, and the small things in life. 

Mental to-do list items keep me grounded

By Abe Villarreal

There are certain habits, specific rituals that we have all to go through each day. When we skip out on them we feel like our day is not complete.

For me, the list is getting longer as I get older. It used to be something as simple as my morning cup of black coffee. I would make it at home, or pick it up at the McDonald's drive-thru. If that didn't happen, I'd stop by one of my colleague's work offices to see what they had brewing. They are always willing to share.

Not much of the morning would pass before I'd have a cup of joe to feel like the day was going to be a good one. Now, for some reason, life is a little more rigid, a little more scheduled and there seems more to do on my to-do list.

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American diversity can be as good as 15 bean soup

By Abe Villarreal

I always wonder why people in our American culture are afraid or find "weird" the customs and habits of our foreign friends. I remember reading in high school American History textbooks the stories of migration and the lines at Ellis Island. The phrase melting pot was a popular one with authors and teachers.

I like that – the melting pot. Like a bowl of soup made by mom, it gives me a sense of comfort. I see all kinds of ingredients mixed together and somehow producing something that tastes so good. What's really good about most soups is that most of the ingredients don't fully melt.

You can point them out and see them floating around. Scoop up just a potato with your spoon and it will taste like a potato even if you pick up the other flavors that have come together. You still want to taste the potato and know it's there.

So why are we afraid to taste a little of everything that has come together into the big bowl of soup we call America today? I still think America has a great flavor to it. I think most people around the world feel that way they too, and many are going to great lengths to get a taste. Some people, in their attempts at just one bite, give their lives. They don't make it all the way. We lose out at getting to know how they would contribute to our soup.

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Small thrills from a gas station lottery scratcher

By Abe Villarreal

Occasionally I like to buy a lottery scratcher from the gas station down the street. I know I'm probably not going to hit it big, but there's always the chance, and you can't win if you don't play.

Buying a scratcher is one of those small, temporary pleasures you get for only a couple of bucks. All you need is motivation and a penny that you find in the cup holder in between the two front seats.

You never really go into the gas station to purchase the scratcher, but after getting your cup of joe and a bag of mixed nuts for the road, a scratcher seems like the next thing. The gas station gods know you become weak when you see one, so they make sure the big clear box with the rolls of colorful scratchers sits right next to the cashier box.

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Catfish Fridays, Taco Tuesdays, and other things I love to expect

By Abe Villarreal

I like it when places have traditions that have gone on forever even if no one knows how they started. Like going into a restaurant and finding out they have Catfish Fridays on the menu. It seems like most places in the South, and places in other parts, offer some kind of fried fish, catfish, all-you-can-eat fish on the menu, and it seems that it's almost always on Fridays.

Maybe the Catholics of generations ago, with their no meat-eating traditions during the holy season, may have inadvertently started a tradition that became a staple with hole-in-the-wall restaurants across the country. Or maybe a nice cut of fish, slightly battered, deep fried, and served with perfectly crispy fries was something that was meant to be eaten after you leave work on a Friday afternoon to start the weekend.

There's also Taco Tuesdays which is something a bit newer in the history of dishes inspired by alliteration. You can't escape Taco Tuesdays whether at a restaurant or just at home. Tuesdays now seem to be created for tacos and why not? Before this trend, there was nothing inspiring about Tuesdays. Now, a Tuesday dinner feels like a fiesta with salsa, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Fried or soft shells, Taco Tuesdays were created by someone, or by some place, some time ago. No one knows exactly the details.

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What an old smelter meant to me growing up

By Abe Villarreal

When I was growing up in Douglas, Arizona there was a smelter that was the center of the community. It employed our fathers and grandfathers. Its company had a mercantile at the busiest intersection of downtown. Everywhere you went, there were signs of why it was part of all of our lives. Each day you could see the smoke laying low over the tallest buildings. Each night, the shadow of the stacks were symbols that represented why our community existed.

And then, the smelter closed. I was a kid when that happened so I didn't immediately feel the impact or foresee what would happen to the place I call home. I'm sure the adults were nervous. People lost jobs and as the years passed on, businesses closed. The historic downtown district became quieter.

This story could be told of many Mainstreet communities in our country. Businesses come and go, seemingly overnight. Communities are a little sturdier. They tend to hang on even if they are wounded. A smelter closing could feel like a punch in the gut, but you manage to keep on keeping on.

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Why I like visiting places I've been to before

By Abe Villarreal

I'm going to Baltimore for the first time this coming March. I'm looking forward to it because it's a place filled with history and delicious food. It touches the water, and I read that it is the birthplace of our national anthem.

I like going to places I've never been before, but not as much as going to places where I have been a time or two. They seem to be more special to me, but you had to have been there at least once for that to happen, so going to new places is part of the process.

Visiting familiar places is like seeing people you met once or a few times before. You remember their first names or at least the name they are known by. You think of those characteristics that make them stand out in your mind. Like the guy who tells stories that seem too hard to believe or the lady that you know is always going to be behind the old diner coffee counter because that's where she's been since anyone can remember.

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A new year, and a clock moving too fast for us

By Abe Villarreal

Dates and calendars are love 'em and hate 'em kinds of things. In some ways, they are imaginary numbers and periods of time. How would our lives be different if we didn't have them or believe in them? Maybe we would behave like every day was our last, or every day was our first.

Because our lives are temporary, we obsessively focus on time, goals, and tomorrows. We set ourselves up to realize accomplishments. We put ourselves in positions of failure. We forget that we are in control, not the calendar or the clock.

No matter how hard we try, time forces us to face realities. This all comes to mind as we begin new days, new weeks, new months, and now a new year. "Time don't wait on no one," a friend once told me, and neither do deadlines, life pressures, to-do lists.

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Finding fulfillment on a drive to nowhere

By Abe Villarreal

When I have a day off and nothing on the schedule, I like to get in the car, grab some snacks, turn on some 70s lite rock on the radio, and make my way down one of those lonesome desert highways that seem to lead to nowhere.

I've never liked it when people say there isn't anything to see out in these places. Those same people make it down to our neck of the desert to do nothing but see things. The open skies, the majestic mountains, the wildlife, and the places that seem forgotten to time.

Those are the places I like the most. One of the best things about living in the Southwest is driving with no plan, no schedule, and no time frame. You just keep going until what you see forces you to stop.

Like those gas stations with little convenience stores that try to sell more than just gas and soda because they know this is the last stop for a good while. If you need bathroom supplies, canned beans, flashlights, or homemade burritos, they got it.

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