Thursday, November 26, 2015

The gang's all here!

Pass the turkey, cranberry sauce along with a heaping plateful of laughs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Skipping stones and liitle boys

    My two-year old neighbor toddles into our living room and starts his inspection process while his mother and I talk in the entryway. He picks up a small black flat stone off the coffee table and examines it.

     “That’s yours,” I tell him. “You left it here the last time you were over, and I saved it for your return.”
     You’d have thought that I had given him the keys to the Magic Kingdom from the grin that comes over his face. He grasps it, turns it over and over and rubs it with the tips of his fingers.

     After numerous attempts, he fails putting 
the object into the slit in his jacket pocket, and it lands on the floor where it remains. Changing plans, he works on the complexities of zipping up his jacket in his latest desire for independence. -So much for a slippery stone.
     To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten all about that stone resting near the pile of magazines. I had recovered it off the floor and placed it there after his last visit. I never gave a second thought that down the road it would make a little boy so happy – at least for a few seconds - like discovering a long lost toy car hidden under the couch.
     Typical of all preschoolers, he is ready to move on and basically the visit is over as far as he is concerned. He sides up to his mom, wraps his arms around her knees and we both realize that our few moments of opportunity for adult conversation is finished for today.

     After mother and son leave, I gather up the flat stone no more that one-half an inch in length, and hold it for a moment. One of my favorite things to do at the beach no matter what the season is searching for just that shape of stone and skipping it on the water’s surface.
    If you are like me, you are weary of all the violence in the world. It is complicated, and if and when solutions get addressed, perhaps, there will be a more humane way of co-existence. That’s why I turn to simple pleasures free of brutality keeping me sane in a messy global community.
     There’s a practiced art to skipping a rock — YouTube will come to your aid, and if you find just the right shore, there are a multitude of thin light stones lying there waiting for you.
     Stand perpendicular to the water’s edge, give the rock an underhanded toss and let it go. If you are lucky, it will skim the surface, gain momentum and skip a second, third or fourth before dropping into the depths. The object of the game is to see how many times a stone can bounce before sinking.
    The stone generates lift in the same manner as a flying disc by pushing water down as it moves across the water at an angle. Surface tension has very little to do with it. The stone's rotation acts to stabilize it against the torque of lift being applied to the back.

     I have solved many of my most troublesome problems strolling the beach listening to the slap of the waves on the shore and randomly tossing stones out like I was physically letting go of my worries one at a time.
     Growing up friends and I would have our best conversations skipping stones together and often it was just the companionship we needed while trying to solve the perplexities of growing up - like figuring out why we were so misunderstood by our parents and teachers alike.
     In my head I have the image of my mother as a young woman – she was the best stone skipper by a long shot – and it reminds me that I should keep that picture of a vigorous, active person alive instead of one of her last years in ravished health. - So, I see her deftly skipping stones without a care in the world.
      For those of you trivia buffs, there is The North American Stone Skipping Association (NASSA), founded by Coleman-McGhee in 1989 and based in Driftwood, Texas, sanctioned world championships for four years from 1989 through 1992.
.     Believe it or not, there are official NASSA World Championships, too. The World Stone Skimming Championships 2016 will take place on Sunday, September 25, 2016 on Easdale Island, near Oban in Argyll, Scotland.
      “Skim it far, skim to the stars!”  - Its motto, and the only entry requirement is that you must skip a stone three times.
     The world record according to the Guinness Book of World Records is 88 skips by Kurt "Mountain Man" Steiner, age 48. The cast was achieved in 2013 at Red Bridge in the Allegheny National Forest, Pennsylvania.
     I suppose if nothing else, it is satisfying to know that I am not alone in sporting the hobby, if you want to call it one.
     I reach into my sweater pocket and out comes an unusual stone – I am a collector of rocks and have been for years. I put this one on the coffee table for my little neighbor. In the meantime, my cat will get in the act by knocking it to the carpet when he is in a lighthearted mood.
     I have no doubt that my wee friend will use his sharp eyes and we will “play” the game all over again with 2 stones instead.



Monday, November 16, 2015

Don't let the little things lock you in

Stupid is as stupid goes.

You would just as soon forget your those mistakes, pratfalls and errors that shamefully pulled at you at one time or another.
You can be deft at blocking them from your memory. Until...

It is brought up at a family gathering around the dinner table and brings hours of entertainment at the expense of the mortified person. “You remember when so and so…"    more giggling. Howling. Pointing at your red face. 

Comedians play on stupidity. Candid Camera and America’s Funniest Videos are full of them. I marvel at people who can pass them off easily with a shrug. I suppose for money, anything is posible. 

-Wish I had that in me. It would be healthier. 

Only elementary teachers understand how many times kids fall out of their seats, and often for no apparent reason. A student might have gotten himself into a book, moved a bit and the next thing you know, the book is on the floor right with the reader. Usually a quick laugh and the child is good to go again.

If you are reading on to the end waiting for me to share my stupid mistakes out in public, you are very wrong. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Where to turn?

There are times in your life when you don't know which way to turn. 
That's not a bad thing, though. Learning to live with the unknown for a bit is a worthwhile challenge.

Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Choose to ruin your day, or not

     Of all the things to go wrong on a trip, dropping a camera is high up on the list of non-life threatening disasters. I observed how one gentleman handled the situation, and his attitude was commendable.
     If we could literally pick up the pieces and move on when the tiny annoyances poke at us, how much better off we would become as human beings. As the saying goes, “there are bigger fish to fry” - like solving the major issues in the world.
     This particular man was in his eighties and very much in command of his life – calm and composed, and in fact, his wife and him were delightful travel companions. They absorbed experiences with fresh eyes and ears, and they engaged in conversation together like two best friends –they’d been married for over 60 years.
     When I heard what had happened to the camera, I remarked to the husband that I was sorry. Oh, I know. That’s such a lame remark to make to someone who just lost his entire collection of photos. I should have done better than that in the empathy department.
     However, he smiled back at me with a few words I will never forget: “It’s not the worst thing in the world. We have our memories.”
     Crisis averted. The day saved. No whining. No complaining and making everyone within 100 feet miserable for being random inhabitants of the same space on the planet.

     Does that graceful trait of not letting things get the best of you come with age? It is comforting though, to be in the presence of someone serene and wise, and it encouraged me to strive for improvement. I thought of how fortunate his grown children and grandchildren must be to have him as a role model.
     Certainly, as you get older you measure the true value of life in much more important terms – good health, stability and precious connections with others. Those are more priceless than all the rubies in the world.
     Those fortunate folks of any age who have an inner strength equipping them with coping mechanisms are better off when it comes to the “glass half full or empty” theory. I’ll leave that to psychologists to explain, though, and not pretend playing one as a columnist.
     Suppose it rains for two straight days on your trip and the show must go on. Talk about a busload of people swinging one way or the other in their outlook on a dreary morning.

     One couple from the Philadelphia suburbs donned their matching blue rain gear, pasted grins on their faces, and made the best of “a bad hair day.” Every single time I talked with them, the conversation was about the sights in front of us, and not how damp their feet were from walking around like ducks. They had dressed for the occasion, and knew that by evening they would be dried out by the hotel lobby’s fireplace sipping a local beer or wine no worse for that matter.
     On the other hand, there were others I had to stay clear of or I would dampen my spirits by being in their company too long. They are the folks that nothing is ever right anyhow. It makes no difference if it is cloudy or sunny outside.
     All it takes is a rainy day to get them into an even grumpier mood, and it stays with them like a creeping spider attaching itself to the shower wall. If they could only hear a tape-recording of what they sound like to others, would that jolt them into an upright position?
     One solo traveler complained that no one had told her that there might be a rainy day on the trip, and she had not brought the right clothes. She immediately bought an umbrella, and still, she couldn’t get it out of her mind. Rather than getting too wet, she sat on the bus alone part of the time and didn’t partake in much. Talking with her, or should I say, listening to her three hours later, and it was as if a broken record was repeating itself.

     Once on the trip the bus was held up at a border crossing between two small countries at passport control for almost two hours. The bus engine had to be turned off. Passengers couldn’t leave the bus. We waited. And waited. Fortunately, the tour guide had taken those couple hours into account in planning out the day, and we wouldn’t be missing anything. It was a tedious normal thing that people living in that region of the world put up with on a regular basis.
     Since I was sitting behind the eighty-year old couple, they began telling me about growing up and meeting in high school on Long Island. We got so wrapped up in the moment that the time flew by. A woman across the aisle joined in when she overheard that the three of us were originally from Long Island, her home, too.
     The couple from the Philadelphia suburbs spent the time quietly planning their next major trip together. The wife was putting notes into her journal for reference.
     The solo traveler checked her watch repeatedly and tapped her foot. I reminded myself not to get seated next to her at dinner if I could help it.
     As for where I traveled and what sights linger in my mind, check out a special blog I created for the trip:
Tour Dubrovnik and Beyond with Kay




Saturday, October 24, 2015

Reading the local newspaper

      The first thing I do when I receive the weekly edition of the Livingston County News is to go to the opinion page and read my column, AND ONE MORE THING…
     Seriously? I’d admit that in public?
      Of course, I’d be lying if I told you differently. I have to get it out of the way before I go to the rest of the paper. (My column appears every other week on this page.)

     May I interject here that reading the print version compared to the online account of a column is a whole different matter. I’ve noticed it, and I have tried to adjust my writing style for online as well with shorter, concise paragraphs.
     Wordiness has no place in writing a column, and I keep my writing clean. At the last minute I am taking away a fuzzy or repetitive phrase before I push “send” to the editor.
     Online reading demands that eyes run quickly over phrases and less is more than enough. A reader learns to adjust his rate differently. At least that’s what I am noticing in trending topics coming through on my daily LinkedIn home page.
    A reporter told me that in his opinion what he has written doesn’t translate online the same and seems less personal. Now he’s of the electronic generation, and it is interesting to hear it from a writer’s perspective that the old-fashioned way has its merits.  
      I beg to differ. I read my pieces both ways, and if I have hit the mark, the content is fine either format.
     I also know that I have to have a very compelling piece on a topic of general interest executed with the proper number of giggles and seriousness to hold anyone glued to AND ONE MORE THING… for its entirety.

     Younger readers tell me that they have less time to “pour” over articles, and need the delivery as quickly as possible. News bytes are satisfying and engage them momentarily.
     Buzz Feed is big into articles with lists: “The 11 most helpful phrases to use when you meet new people at a party.” “5 survival techniques when your family visits over the holidays.” Photography and videos accompany the writing, which keeps you on the site. Watch out you don’t get sidetracked with the pop-up ads, though.
      Actually, “pouring” over the paper pretty much dates your age group.
     My mother would clip dress advertisements from the New York Times and order an outfit. A week or so later, a box would arrive from a famous department store, and out came the actual dress.
     One Lincoln Street neighbor wrote an eloquent Letter to the Editor at least once a week on a topic covered in the paper. He believed in free speech and fortunately, the editor allowed space for his views.
     However, when the gentleman got into his encounters with extraterrestrial phenomenon, his writing left me behind. He would come over to our porch and lend me his articles carefully clipped from the paper along with a book or two. I don’t believe I ever did more than a cursory look over, and when he returned for his material a couple days later, this teenager would fake interest in Martian landings.
     Of course, I grew up holding a newspaper in my hands, and it is the most comfortable and natural form of reading.
     One of my part time jobs while in high school was at a small national travel trailer magazine. I assisted the editor doing the “paste-ups” of the front page before going to press. Once I had the opportunity to write a short piece about a retired couple becoming full- time campers from a letter received along with a follow-up phone call. The editor patiently guided me – I had a million plus questions- through the process of accurate reporting, and the resulting article were nothing to write home about, but nevertheless, acceptable.

     I surprise myself with how many papers I do read on line, though, and I get a broader perspective of international news.
      I don’t know where I would be without the online edition of the Livingston County News and its up-to-the minute stories and local weather. It proudly comes up on my homepage every morning and I take time to read the latest headlines and the weather. The obituaries call to be read daily, and more often than not, a familiar name stares me in the face.
     There is a bit of nostalgia in checking in on my hometown newspaper via the online edition every once in awhile to see if a name or place catches my attention.
    The front page of the Livingston County News is the second place that I go, and it covers all the county.
     I call myself an “equal opportunity reader” and whereever my eyes drop, I start reading whether it is an ad, sports story or news feature. I admit to reading randomly throughout the paper while it stays on my coffee table for the week no different than my mother or grandmother who kept sections of the newspaper on the dining table for days.
     What appeals to me about a local weekly newspaper is the idea that I can sit down for five minutes and read about a high school player of the week, another columnist’s work, check the photography and find an activity within driving range.  
     Before recycling the newspaper, I clip out my column and save it in my ever-bulging file. Shouldn’t I just go with the understanding that it is in the newspaper’s permanent online archives?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Road trips steer us down memory lane

     “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet.” Those words were sung by bubbly Dinah Shore on her TV show in the late 50s and prompted folks to take her advice. 
     They hit the road in Desoto Fireflite station wagons – “There’s room for the whole tribe”- Ford Fairlanes and Airstream campers like never before.

     The war was over (World War II), prosperity abounded and there was a housing boom across the country. Life was looking bright for the average young American family, and they took advantage of a two-week paid vacation.
     The 50s, 60s and 70s were the decades of the great American driving vacations with two-lane highways, local diners, shameless billboard advertising, along with amusement parks and national parks as destinations. 
     Cruise back with me in time and connect the dots to your own personal memories.
     Haul out the photo album and browse through all those faded snapshots and share the stories with your grandkids about their parents when they were young, those snippets which can come only from you.
     Imagine a trip in a nutshell, and depending upon your age, you were either in the front seat, back seat or in the third seat way to the rear of the wood paneled wagon.

     After months of pouring over maps free for the asking at the neighborhood gas station, the decision was made now that junior was out of diapers and the big kids were self-sufficient. The final stop might be bunking in with rarely seen cousins living in a faraway state. Perhaps, it was the vacation crossing the country out to the Pacific coast, or to the national capitol in Washington for a glimpse into how our government runs.
     Dad did most of the driving in the four-door sedan – if you were in luck as a kid, it was a station wagon – and he was in charge of timeouts for bathroom breaks and ice cream at Dairy Queen. Kids were often at dad’s mercy, and with his permission, rolling down the back windows brought breezes like natural air-conditioning.
     In fact, watch an early TV show, “Father’s Knows Best,” about a family in the Midwest, and you’ll see who’s in charge in a civilized way, too, not at all like Archie Bunker.
     Mom planned the food and snack menu along with making sure the kids were kept entertained in the car. She appeased dad when he got lost and got him turned around on the right road. The family budget was strict and each child was allotted a small amount of money to spend on souvenirs. Felt pennants, miniature statues and wooden boxes were carried home to become dust collectors.
     Leave it to Beaver’s mom, June Cleaver, made terrific sandwiches while the car was in motion with slices of white bread, peanut butter and jelly slapped on with a knife. A thermos of iced tea or chilled milk in a bottle stored in the Scotch plaid cooler would wash the crumbs down.

     Back then there was a whole different purpose to the slow drive and family togetherness that was a natural occurrence like Sunday dinners after church. Gas prices were so low you could “fill er up” for a five- dollar bill, and you would expect to get change back, too. Imagine having an attendant come smiling out of the station, clean your windshield and check your oil, too, all for the single price of a tank of gas.
     Brothers and sisters were annoying creatures, but kids learned to tolerate each other in tight quarters.  Coloring books, novels and road games were the staples for entertainment. Everyone participated together spotting license plates from other states, and one of the older kids would mark the results on paper. Counting cows, blue cars and the alphabet game were hours of amusement.  
      After a few hours of driving mom and dad might relax enough to begin singing some of their favorite songs from when they first met and fell in love. Parents became real people, too, in the eyes of their children.

     The car was loaded with suitcases, and often they were strapped to the rooftop, too. There was that sense of curiosity out beyond the tree lined streets of home in anticipation of viewing the ocean or the red rocks for the first time.
     A Kodak camera recorded the trip for posterity. After returning home safely, rolls of film were sent to Rochester be processed and the family waited for the envelope or two to arrive in the mail with the photos. Mom would organize them in the album using gummed black stickers at the edges.
    Part of the travel highlights would be roadside picnic meals, and a stop at a campsite for the night, or perhaps, a Howard Johnson motel –the chain with the green weathervane on top of the orange roof and fried clams on the restaurant menu. Ah, the kids could stretch their legs if there was an outdoor swimming pool and get rid of excess energy.        
     Except for the brother or sister who insisted on getting carsick every half hour or so, the car kept rolling. A flat tire or the engine heating up required a stop along the edge of the highway, and they always managed to happen in scorching late afternoon temperatures. Those were the few discomforts that became the stories to laugh over months later.
     There are plenty of people that continue the driving vacation of days gone by, and it suits them well.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Lower the bar

Certain advice on how to become a better writer is nonsense in my opinion. I will go to the opposite extreme and tell you to lower the bar on your personal expectations, and wisely not let anyone else dictate what is best for you. 

 You don't have to tie yourself to the computer or your journal every single day for a set number of minutes. That's torture in my estimation. Remember that professional writers are editing, marketing and promoting their materials, which is a form of on-going writing in itself. 

Writing doesn't happen just because you decide to dedicate early mornings to the craft. It could come at any hour of the day or night, or maybe not at all, for several empty days- hopefully not weeks- in a row. When your mind is ready to release the words, they will appear effortlessly and in beautiful sentences. Otherwise, be out in the world enjoying what life has to offer you. 

Writing doesn't need to planned carefully either. If you permit the muse within to take control, you will find how exciting the creative process takes care of you all on its own.
Practice. Play with words. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Life lesson: How to get yourself back on track

Rain and dampness are descending upon the area outside, so perhaps, it is the perfect day to evaluate what you should do after you have fallen into the pit so to speak and need to get yourself going once again.

1.         You have to realize that you are stuck.

2.      You have to start questioning yourself.

3.   You have to come up with an action plan.

4.   You have to take it a little at a time.

5.   Thank all who helped you, and include a pat on the back for yourself.

6.   Move forward.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Colleagues ponder the creative life


     “You hide things within your writing, don’t you?”
     A colleague raised that question during a conversation between two other creative people.
     That’s a deep thought. I am still wondering about it hours later considering the nature of my latest non-fiction work.
     I had a reply at the moment.
     “Often I do to be truthful. If you know me, you might pick up on it – my belief system, for example, frames my work. Then again, my thoughts could be buried so deeply I have a hard time finding them myself.”

     Well-crafted writing can be read at different levels like peeling away the skin of an apple, and also, from totally different perspectives. There is the surface understanding, or skin, that can fool you with its simplicity. Deeply rooted are the juicy gems of wisdom at the core waiting for a reader to capture and ponder if they so desire. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

No paper and pencil required


     Scrap paper has little important in my life.
     It’s about as useless as carrying extra dimes in my purse for calling from a phone booth, or going through the card catalog in the library to locate a book.
     I go along with a changed world and consider I am benefitting from newer and faster technology.
     Never one to lag behind, I lead a different lifestyle today. I use my notes app on my phone or computer a great majority of the time, and often while I am talking on the phone, too.
     Sometimes I email notes to Kay to remind her to check a website or product, and that’s very noble of me. When I look back at the seemingly related words a day later, chances are that I wonder what the note was all about in the first place, and where I was when I wrote it.
     When I travel I create a blog – I alert people a head of time to subscribe - to share comments and pictures that I glean from the notes I have been keeping on my computer. It does the trick for me in the evenings during my down time, and saves my general Facebook friends from suffering through my pictures.
     I often see other travelers with their heads buried writing in notebooks when they should be absorbing their surroundings getting a whole sensual experience. I am not much for that, and I collect thoughts like a rain barrel throughout the day. They will come pouring out on paper, and in the case of a trip to Ireland, it took two or three months after returning home for the adventure to make sense and “A Smidgen of Irish Luck” to be written.
     My cell phone takes pictures of book covers in stores I want to borrow from the library, or products I want to check on the Internet for more details.
     My pocket calendar went in the trash along with my shoulder pads and cinch waist belts years ago.
     I used to be a connoisseur of nifty note pads in all sizes, shapes and colors, and I would line them up in all the usual places - on my desk, bedside, purse and in the kitchen ready for action.

     Then like everyone else, I could never find something to write on when the phone rang. I raced from room to room in the house trying to maintain a level, professional voice searching for paper and pencil frantically.
     It is a good thing the other person couldn’t see me running, or stumbling, with one shoe on and the other off. Only my heavy breathing would give me away if I were careful not to remain a semblance of calmness.
     Or, worse yet, a week later I couldn’t find the slip of paper that had an important phone number that I needed instantly.
     Now it’s the White Pages, or “ask Siri” to get the information. No sweat. Our phonebook is hidden somewhere on the bottom shelf about as worthless as the deep fryer and bread maker I gave away in the last century.
     I noticed yesterday that the young person on the phone from my travel company talked slowly and loudly — I dislike that, and consider it an insult — and said that he would wait while I found a piece of paper and wrote the instructions down. Yikes. I was ten steps ahead of him already and on the company’s website filling in the information required about my passport. I am sure that he had been trained to deal with all types of older clients, and I don’t fault him. He did start moving along at my faster pace once he caught on to me.
     To this day when I get ready to throw a piece of paper in the trash, I think fondly of my former teaching colleague. She made a fetish over cutting up larger lined composition paper into quarters and cutting them down to size with the paper cutter. She used the backs of papers, too. Her trashcan was down to the bare minimum most of the time.  Even her students went along and helped out. She was living green and I applaud her earnest endeavor.
    She had me so well trained that every time I was about to toss a sheet of paper into the trash, I would make a slow arc in my pitch and often stop in midair to retrieve the paper before it went to its demise in the circular bin.
     I use less paper taking notes when I am writing a feature story, and I tape record it for better accuracy. The trusty notebook remains for capturing impressions about the interviewee or the location, body language clues and highlighting quotes that might work in the body of the story.
     My grocery list is on my cell phone, and I like that I can add to it when I am away from the kitchen when a thought comes into my head. My daily to-do-list is on my computer synced to my cell phone for easy checking throughout the day. With Wiki, Google and YouTube at my fingertips, it saves hours of time and less endless copying.
     Don’t think I am bragging, or can explain how going into the Cloud works by a long stretch. I just go into thin air, and leave it to the techies to figure it out.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fall is slipping in

Crisp air awakens autumn’s arrival with nippy morning starts and warm rays of sunshine in the afternoon sky. Sweaters and light jackets in the morning are cast off by noon and underneath are the remnants of summer clothes fighting not to be put away just quite yet. Falling leaves haven't accumulated enough to require raking, and in the meantime, apples and pumpkins are making their presence known as a perk.