Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The message in tiles

I became fascinated with tiles while on a trip to explore the cities of Spain, and everywhere I went my camera was photographing colorful floors, walls and sidewalks. These sections were on a lovely park walkway between my hotel and the Museum of Art in Bilbao. It made a statement about the importance of outdoor natural spaces and the cultural climate of the country. I was impressed.

Tiles are not as simplistic as they might seem to the naked eye. Designs within patterns appear when you take a closer examination. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Use critical words sparingly

     “It’s about time,” I stated emphatically with my hands on my hips.

     The words that come out of your mouth are powerful, and in certain instances, they may be harmful, too. You damage another person’s ego faster than you spend a dollar. It’s the voice that conveys the real message I believe.
     Dickens deadheaded to the back porch as fast as his little legs would carry his 12-pound body.
      He won the cat lottery when he moved into our household. Like a typical feline, he operates on his own schedule, and frankly, it can be exasperating.
     Dickens had been wandering outside after the sun had faded into the western sky, and I, the ever-vigilant owner, wanted him back inside away from roaming night critters. He arrived on his own terms — he leads a charmed life — and glanced up annoyingly at me on his way to his feeding bowl.
     Not that Dickens knows what “it’s about time” means, but I would suspect that his ears picked up my nervousness about his safety.
     “It’s about time” was not a statement that I made as a teacher unless there was a smile on my face and a one-on-one rapport had been established previously. Respect comes from a mutual trusting relationship.

     One year in sixth grade I had a very talented writer. He kept telling me about a fantasy novel that he was working on at home while burning the midnight oil. Slaving over his novel often was his excuse for not finishing his homework assignments.
    “I’m writing, too, except that I do arrive to work in the morning prepared,” I explained.
     My student would be disappointed in me if I weren’t doing my best as his teacher. I expected the same in return.
     A lengthy teacher-student talk about priories and multi-tasking apparently must have done the trick in the long run.
    The day came toward the end of the year when the twelve-year-old flew in with a huge bundle under his arm. He waited until there was no one at my desk and deposited his manuscript. He scurried off to his seat, and I could see from his eyes peering up at me, that he wanted my reaction. His feet were tapping on the floor wildly and he was anxiously clicking his pen, both rare body language for this normally secure kid.
     I examined the cover and flipped through several pages. My first impression was that it appeared better than I had thought originally, and obviously major effort had gone into the project.  
     I walked over to his desk, and with a slight smile on my face looked at him and proudly said, “It’s about time.”
     The look I got back was priceless. We were good to go as teacher-student forever. To this day when his name pops up in my head, I think happy thoughts of the first of many novels he still has in him. I will celebrate when I hear the news of his published book without thinking those words.
    During a free period I read the novel, and I was hooked right from the beginning. Knowing that sixth graders with their exuberance of hormones don’t like to be drawn or singled out, I decided a celebration of the event would not be in order. Instead I wrote a long personal note with a coupon for a novel or two from the box that I kept beside my desk as rewards.
     “It’s about time,” I said to my California nephew when he finally moved out of his childhood home after college and launched off on his own as a grown-up.
     The safety of the family home as a place to nest is what one should have available for necessity and for brief periods. He was not budging, however, and his folks were frustrated. Enter another adult with a fresh set of thoughts and nothing to gain.
     I am sure that message from his aunt stung. Point made. Point taken. The next thing that I knew, my nephew had an apartment, and I believe he was happier doing his own thing, too.

     Here’s a slightly different spin on the tortoise and the hare fable. Once there was a speedy hare constantly bragging on Facebook about his running abilities.
     Tired of hearing him boast, the tortoise challenged him to a race and set up an event page. Why not? He invited all the animals to watch in person, or live stream in their habitats. They placed their bets on the hare’s Go-Fund Me website, the sure winner, even though they secretly were rooting for the underdog.
     Now the hare was so confident he sat down on the side of the road, caught up on his texting to friends in neighboring burrows, took a few selfies and snoozed.
     The tortoise walked and walked plugged in to his iTune personal playlist.
    At the finish line the tortoise glided across while the animals cheered in astonishment. Slow and steady won the race.  
    The hare woke up hearing all the commotion and sprinted along the racecourse, but it was way too late.
     When the panting hare crossed the finish line the animals yelled in unison, “It’s about time.”  
     The tortoise tweeted his success, granted several interviews to local news media and was the guest of honor at the party. The hare hopped on over, high-fived the tortoise and ate a piece of humble pie.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Thoughts for a monday morning

There are moments when you must stop your perpertual moving and reaching for the American Dream and let sadness soak in. To deny yourself this solitude however long it takes is not healthy by any means, and it deserves a wintry season of contemplation.

Today I am reminded of all the students in my elementary classrooms throughout the years that have passed away. Measured in years, their lives were way too short. In quality and contribution to the betterment of others, each one made an immense impact.

One by one, I will picture a face and a name in my mind. A light will shine in my heart for each of them, and I will be glad that I was privileged to share a year of earthly time.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Top 5 things to know after you've messed up

      Today is as good a day as any to face our bloopers, errors and embarrassing failures straight on.
      I’ll stick my neck out first. Just this week I forgot two, not one, birthdays, lost a bill and accidently didn’t tape the entire interview for an assignment.
     I had one of two options: Ignore the matter and fumble on poorly, or make amends, repair the damage and correct my errors.
     Those are trivial blips in the greater scheme of things. You and I have had many worse scenarios, and for a few we have cried for hours on end. By faith we have hung on and seen the sun rise over the hilltop.
    Not a single one of us gets a free pass.
     I came across this sound advice from great international leader, Winston Churchill. “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
     No. 1 You are not the first person.
     The world is not coming to an end. I spent wasted younger years trying to gloss over situations so I wouldn’t look inept.
     Each of us puts on a public face, and it conceals our self-imposed inadequacies.  
     You have loads of company, and if it makes you feel a little bit better, that person you thought is so perfect at everything hasn’t landed firmly on the ground either.
      The media loves to glamorize Hollywood stars and make their lives the ultimate achievement. When a wart appears to blemish them in the eyes of their adoring public, few remember that they are human, too.
      It’s all in our attitude. Own up to mistakes, take responsibility and let them go. It is a very hard task not to revisit our mistakes and let them beat us up unmercifully. Certainly, you can learn from them.
     No. 2 Things look better after a good night’s rest.
     There is something about looking at a dilemma with fresh wide -awake eyes that helps in working toward a sensible solution.
     I find it fruitless staying up late trying to solve an issue when I am overtired. It only makes me toss and turn in bed and provoke all sorts of negative energy. Beating up the pillow is pointless.
     “Tomorrow is another day.”
     My dad always said that things will be brighter in the morning, and I believed him. Now I sing in the shower, get right back to it and my spirits are charged to full capacity.
     More often than not, the solution or a new path comes during sleep, too, and upon awakening a possibility occurs from my subconscious.
     No. 3 Every invention is the result of multiple failures.
     As adults we know our own risk level, and that drives our choices about investments, career changes and practically everything inbetween.
     Problem solving and out of the box thinking does not come without failure — nor does any form of artistic creativity.
     Two movies out this year attest to great scientific achievements that changed the course of history. In both “The Imitation Game” and “The Theory of Everything” a lot of experimentation and openness to unusual thoughts brought solutions.
     Failure is a good thing to teach young children within a safe environment for not everything works a child’s way and in a timely fashion. Too often children in their selfishness think that the world revolves around them, and expect things to fall into their laps. As a matter of fact, certain adults never rise above it either.    
     Learning how to be flexible and resilient are excellent skills to instill in young children.
     I saw a mother in an airport doing just that thing by example. I thought it was a good teaching moment and I gave her an A plus. A flight was cancelled and she would be taking her brood of children to a hotel for the night and catching a plane to grandma’s house the next morning. She remained as calm as she could in front of the children, and made it seem like an adventure while hand-in-hand they trudged off carrying their backpacks.
    No. 4 You do not have to explain yourself.
     That’s a hard one. I used to feel that it was necessary. All the time. I don’t anymore.
      Frankly, it depends upon the situation. Special people in your life love you for you, and willingly accept everything about you including your flaws. They trust you and your judgment. Nothing needs to be stated.
     Throwing a pity party and taking on sympathy as the answer to a problem only sets in motion more of the same. Nothing comes to resolution. There are well-meaning people that will listen to you for hours on end until after a while even those folks will turn away.
     No. 5 There is only one way, and it is up.   
     As bottomless you may think the pit, there is an end if you take charge of your situation and do what you have to do. Perhaps, the change in direction might be the best thing ever when looking back.
     You want empathy from others who jump into the pit with you, hold your hand and listen. Those who refocus the conversation back to their own self-interests are not of help.
     Look to your trusted mentors for wise advice. It helps to a point getting varied opinions from others through social media, but it is smarter to store up decent friendships with people that will help you through the dark times.
     Move over vulnerabilities. Face things squarely.            

Friday, May 29, 2015

A nose for news awaken a life-long passion

      It never occurred to me at the ripe age of 12 why I couldn’t write an impressive news story from a simple day-to-day event.
      I charged full-steam ahead writing eye-catching headlines, stories with high-interest appeal and added to my vocabulary by leaps and bounds.
     That was my introduction to the newspaper business. I became the publisher, editor, reporter, typist and delivery gal for the Lincoln Street Gazette.

     The summer after seventh grade I was going through a delicate phase similar to girls of my age group slipping into adolescence. Mom wasn’t going to allow me to hang around moaning and groaning without a purpose for days on end, so she proposed that I start a neighborhood newspaper.
     The newspaper idea took off like a rocket in my mind thanks to my wise mother who knew exactly what I needed to keep me writing away, and I never looked back.
     I couldn’t wait for high school when I could join the school paper as a reporter. I idolized those older kids confidently carrying their reporter’s pads with them and interviewing teachers and football stars — even the principal in his office.
     In the meantime a newspaper might be a way for me to learn all about getting the facts straight, asking the tough questions and staying impartial giving both points of view. That meant taking the heat when things didn’t go right, too.
     Mind you, our residential neighborhood was quite removed from crime and more socially connected than anything else, so my news beat wasn’t exactly in a high intensity area for controversial happenings.
      I began work laying out a plan while sitting on the porch. My mind visualized all the different neighbors that lived on Lincoln Street, and I put their names down in a column in my notebook. I would go visit them on a weekly basis, collect information about their activities while interviewing them.
     Our Lincoln Street neighborhood was made up of older retired people and for most of the time that my family lived there my sister and I were the only kids on the block. 
     My mother regularly visited one set or the other, and I had tagged along enough all my life to know each person quite well — at least I thought I did. The more I sat down and listened to their stories, the more I realized I was chronicling a period of time that would never be repeated.
     Several days later I went into action dressing properly in my plaid skirt, white blouse and saddle shoes. Before I left the house Mom reminded me to be careful about what I was going to put in print because certain information might be private, and that someone might not want the rest of the neighbors in on it. She told me to make sure to copy down a quote exactly as it was said, and not to be afraid to ask someone to repeat.
      Gathering the news became more captivating than I had ever anticipated, and I filled up my notebook easily just like Lois Lane of Superman fame.
     Once I had the news gathered, I wrote it up copying the style of The New York Times. I studied how the reporters opened their stories, and it took effort to get the hang of it. I worked hard not putting my own slant on the news and I thought that I kept straight to the facts, although mom would come out of the kitchen checking every word once last time before the paper went to press — the typewriter, that is.
      The hardest part was getting out the Smith Carona portable typewriter, lining up the carbon paper and hunting- pecking on the keyboard. I went along fine for a sentence or two, and I hit the wrong key. With a few utterances out of the corner of my mouth, out flung the paper, and I started again.
      I wouldn’t hit the keys hard enough and upon inspecting the third carbon copy, it couldn’t be read. Back to step one over and over until publishing the paper would become a real chore. Often I would go swimming in the afternoon and decide to abandon the whole crazy newspaper idea.
      Surprisingly, not a single friend of mine visited when I was working for fear of being trapped into typing.
       I recruited my younger sister, — or should I say coerced her — to sell copies for two cents each. When I added up how much I would make a week, I quickly drew the conclusion that 21 copies wouldn’t put very much change in my pocket. I gave away the issues for free as it wasn’t a moneymaking operation.
     By August the glamour had tarnished a bit with the behind-the-scene work keeping me glued to the paper’s deadline instead of soaking up the sunshine.
     I constantly fretted if I would have enough news, and always in those situations, out of nowhere at the last minute a hot story would save my neck — Mrs. R. gets a new refrigerator delivered.
     When I went around to the neighbors delivering the paper, it was well worth it to see the smiles on my customers’ faces.   
   The Lincoln Street Gazette kept in print sporadically for several years after I joined the high school paper. Long after I left home to go off to college those neighbors still would tell my parents how much the newspaper meant to them.
    This summer I am going to decide if there’s a full-length book waiting to be written about those marvelous people long gone who shared their every day lives with the Lincoln Street Gazette during a tranquil decade in our history.

Friday, May 8, 2015

An open letter to my daughter

Dear Daughter,

     I have visited every single place you’ve lived. It’s a mother-kind-of thing. Besides, you know my nature.

     Mothers and their adult children don’t get enough together time in person, especially if they are at a distance.
     Inquisitiveness is in my genes, and I want to keep close while you are far away living in your grown-up world.
      You might think there is a bit of superstition here, too, and if it is so, I don’t intend to jinx the good luck fortune.
     I want to soak in your “everyday” such as where you lay your head to rest and what's outside your front door, so I can tuck it away for the next time we talk. I need pictures in my head, and knowing the sum of your days away from your childhood home.
     That’s why those visits are so important to me.
      I don’t hint around that you haven’t shown your face in months. I consider myself cool in that respect, and I know you get it. There is no guilt trip handed out from mother to daughter. My own parents were very tolerant of me living 400 hundred plus miles away, and when an emergency happened, distance wasn’t an issue.
     Our get-togethers are perfectly wonderful, and crammed full of activities from morning until late night. Then we go our own ways with many memories. In the meantime, we rely on phone calls and texts.

     Glancing back at your life, a few of those dorm rooms were pretty sketchy I must admit now that the years have gone by. Once my husband advised me under no circumstances to open the refrigerator at a college apartment, and trust me, I chose not to do any dirty work, although I wondered if the germs or your roommates would be the first to get out of there alive. Apparently, nobody got sick, and the place passed inspection when you moved. You held up your rent deposit, and moved out of town.
     When I came to your graduate apartment at another campus, it was a time to hold your hand and give you moral support. You had been in a major auto accident and had miraculously gotten out relatively unscathed. I do remember a lot of cheap burrito dinners eaten on a sagging couch you had rescued from the last renter. By the time I flew away, you had regrouped your emotions nicely, and there was a big smile on your face.

     Your first apartment in Ft. Worth as a career woman was beautifully decorated on a tight budget. The stately house was in a tree-lined older neighborhood, and your rooms had lovely wooden floors and molding. Yes, I did check for dust balls in the corners, and congratulated you on your superb domestication.
      Perhaps, after me badgering while you were a teen, you really had “heard” the message. I had thought that “picking up after yourself” was not to be in your skill set ever.
     I barely put down an empty mug on your coffee table and you whisked it off to wash. Wow. That was a complete reversal of roles here. I didn’t dare put my feet up either for fear of a scolding.

     It was at twenty-two that I knew they you would stand on your own in all circumstances tough or challenging. You had matured into a woman with excellent qualities. Not that I didn’t feel that way throughout your life, but proof is in the pudding.
     Things accelerated into the fast lane when you moved to New York City. At first, you were blessed to have a close friend take you in, although the apartment was minimal at best, and location, location, ah, that was not so kind.
     My husband and I brought your posessions in a U-Haul and you and I hiked four fights of stairs with boxes while he stayed with the truck. Even still, while he was in the back handing down the cartons, someone tried to break into the cab.
     You warned me on my first visit to look only to the left on the street and head to the corner to the subway station purposefully holding my purse tightly. It was a bustling street by day, and at night we were snuggled into our hotel in another section of the city.
     Fortunately, that lasted a year and like all mothers, the worry-meter was working overtime. I knew your job kept you late and I hoped that you were careful, took taxis at night and didn’t get mugged.

     Better apartments in different sections of the city made for adventurous exploration into new neighborhoods. The international areas around the United Nations and 44th street near Broadway are two great spots for excellent food and entertainment. How fun to stand in Times Square at midnight feeling all the energy, and then walk two blocks to your apartment.
     For quite awhile now you have lived in a great area in Manhattan with your husband, and I have become knowledgeable about the best of the best local restaurants, stores and places in all directions from your front steps. You have your Chinese laundry next door, coffee shop and fire department down the street, and you know the people in each place quite well.
     I am positive that I am not the only mother thinking in this vein, and I have put in words what the rest of you are feeling about your daughters.  
     Happy Mother's Day all.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spring-ing outward

 I don’t remember the last time it happened. Certainly, not since the brutal winter where running back and forth between my car and the house with my head buried down into my quilted coat became my short sprint out into the world.

Maybe it is a spring phenomena.

 Last week it happened three different times. And I made space for it, too. That’s the most important part, and mostly why I am sharing this with you as a reminder to value impromptu situations. 

I was on Main Street when I came across an old friend walking in my direction that I haven’t seen in ages. We stopped. Talked. Deep down it felt good, and I believe it was mutual in a manner of speaking. Certain things you just know. Neither of us looked at our watches for we were engaged with each other. We checked up on our adult kids’ whereabouts, our spouses and how our health was treating us.
We wondered aloud if the art of taking extra time to talk face-to-face is lost. So much of our connections are by emails, cell phone and texting that the personal one has all but been lost.

Cars went by, and so did other people rush along thinking that there’s a couple of old retired folks killing time. If the truth be known, it was the best use of my day.

Not much later, I saw a friend going into a store and I followed him inside. It was another case of it being ages and little contact, and we needed to catch up with each other. An hour later, and I was on my way feeling much happier for the opportunity.

Friendships are built on it. We need our support networks.

The third time a few hours later I was walking down my rural road and I spotted a neighbor pulling out of her driveway that I normally don’t see during the winter. Somehow warmer weather brings everyone out, and we both talked about the exciting neighborhood news spotting a bear and four cubs.

 Springtime opens us outward once again after a dormant winter spell.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The long and short of an answer

The good news for me is that I have caught up with all my writing assignments – insert applause here - and today I can play around on the computer guilt free without a deadline hovering over my head. I am as giddy as a schoolgirl with the wisdom of an adult thank goodness.

The bad news is that I am flittering away my morning on useless stuff in hopes that something- anything- will inspire me and trip my wires in order to be ready for the next round of work.

In the meantime, I am participating in a Facebook private live jewelry auction on an event page, and simultaneously taking a quiz on my knowledge of contemporary British monarchy. I’m being outbid in the auction, and I am sensibly stepping aside to watch until the final hour. As for my blueblood connections, obviously I have none. I “liked” dozens of posts, wished five friends “Happy Birthday” greetings and found three other dates I need to get on my calendar for next month.

The best news of all is that I discovered an old piece of writing sitting in a folder on my desktop that is timeless, wittty and descriptive of a human condition. I am submitting it to a journal soon after a little freshening. 

Reality strikes a blow with the terrible fate of Nepal in cleanup and recovery, the issues in Baltimore and a couple trials in Rochester. I do honor all that, and won't forget those involved. Perhaps, it is time to reflect on those bigger problems and release mine into the wind.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earning my pay at the local radio station

     I answered to the name, “Hey You,” collected my paycheck and thanked the station manager for the opportunity. I was a tiny cog in the voice of community broadcasting.
     My job while in high school was at the local radio station, WRIV, 1390 AM on the dial. It is one of the oldest stations on Long Island serving the public with music and information for over 60 years.
     Our neighbor was the station manager, and he hired me for after school and summers. The station was a small, start-up operation, not at all like its AM-FM mega business today. 
      “Hey You” didn’t sit right with me, and looking back, I was a decade ahead of the feminist movement.
      My official title “Girl Friday” meant that I did mundane tasks such as putting stacks of vinyl records back on the shelves after the DJ had spun the weekly top 10 on the chart. The DJ would haphazardly deposit them on the studio floor and continue on with the usual broadcast chatter – weather, traffic and beach forecast.

     Certain announcers were sloppier than others in their broadcast booth habits, and I figured out which ones required more of my time. The weekend guys were the worst of the lot, and often they were the ones that lacked common courtesy.
     “Hey You, pick up my half-eaten sandwich and go fetch me an Alka-Seltzer.”

     Talk about broken records. It happened. When a DJ’s hand reached into the wall stacks, he expected the records to be in the proper slots. I made a mistake or two in alphabetizing, and had to observe a DJ going bananas, threatening the incompetence of everyone in the station— including the business manager —while searching for his music.

     Once the latest Johnny Mathias record “Heavenly” was nowhere to be found, and after a violent rant in the main office, the station manager calmly told the DJ that he had forgotten to return it from home. I sat cowering at the secretary’s desk frightened at such furor coming out in grown people. My innocence was being shaken firmly by the roots, and since then, I’ve never tolerated volatility and rudeness in the workplace.
     On-line male personalities no females yet ­ were like prima donnas compared to the technicians and office staff, and I bowed down to their every whim, or get a screaming tirade right in my face.

     There was one particular Saturday morning on-air guy that frequently felt the effects from his late night partying. I had to listen to his incessant talk about his latest love mishaps while tiptoeing in wide circles around him. It was way more than a seventeen year old needed to know. Professionally however, with a blink of the eye he was able to watch the clock for the second hand’s cue and his “golden broadcast tones” would resonate over the airwaves.
     I was growing up by leaps and bounds in an adult world and my sheltered childhood was eroding quickly. My dad warned me not to let anyone lay a hand on me, or say anything off-color, and I wisely stayed alert.
     Going downstairs to the tavern on the first floor for cups of coffee for the on-air personalities was a problematic situation. First, I was entering a bar under age and secondly, dad’s store window intersected the building. He didn’t miss a trick from his teenage daughter. I had to explain to him after my first coffee run what I was doing racing into a bar at eleven o’clock in the morning.
     Besides, I didn’t care to be in the local watering hole with a few   barstool regulars making cute comments while I nervously jumped back and forth on two feet waiting for the bartender to pour the coffee. I would have walked happily down the street to the brightly lit cafe, except the coffee at the bar was free for station staff and that is where I was instructed to go.
     I did a lot of answering the phone, and I developed quite the repertoire of phrases that could put off complainers and those wanting to talk to the on-air host right then, or else.

     When guests were coming for an on-air interview, it was my job to entertain them, and occasionally, I would go home to find out from my parents which adult celebrity, artist or writer from their generation sat across from me. Summertime on Eastern Long Island brought out the rich and famous.
     Carl Yastrzemski, local East End hero from Bridgehampton and future Boston Red Sox star, visited while still at Notre Dame. I should have trusted my instincts and gotten his autograph.
     I gathered news pertaining to the area from the AP wire, and as best as I was able, rewrote copy and handed it to the on-air newsreader for the top-of-the-hour. If the bell sounded, I knew to tear the sheet out of the machine and run directly to the booth. I liked the adrenalin rush, and I self-taught how to write quickly. As for accuracy, I was in the early learning stages and should say no more.
     One sleepy Saturday afternoon there was a serious boating accident and train wreck at approximately the same time, and the reporter on duty worked along with me pulling the news all together by a mere few seconds before airtime.
     It is at that small radio station that I started studying for my third-class broadcast license, and I went on to college to be an on-air personality at WGSU, SUNY Geneseo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Snooze...and you won't loose

At the Corning Museum of Glass
Taking a nap - a power snooze to be precise - is a terrific way to wake up my inner thoughts. With a quick yawn and a wipe of my sleepy eyes, out come words effortlessly as if a floodgate has sprung open suddenly. Hurrah for a stored wellspring of pithy wisdom and witty tidbits.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A mother-kind-of-thing

Mothers and their adult children don’t get enough together time in person especially if they are at a distance. Inquisitiveness is in my nature, and I want to keep close while you are far away living in your grown-up world. That's why I have traveled to every single place that you have ever lived from your dorm rooms to apartments in various cities. I can "place" you in each one. 
I want to soak in your “everyday” such as where you lay your head to rest and what's outside your front door, so I can tuck it away for the next time we talk. I need pictures in my head, and knowing the sum of your days away from your childhood home.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Trio of stories from my travel journal

      Travelers return from a vacation with souvenirs and a suntan. Others come home with beautiful photographs and empty purses. I, on the other hand, am a collector of observable moments. 
     Writers worth their weight in gold are natural people watchers, and although I am not one that carries around a black moleskin notebook, I do record mentally what is happening when I am out in public, and hopefully, I blend into the background.
     Without throwing the salt shaker over my shoulder for good fortune, later snippets of this or that will show up in my work at the critical moment when most needed. Other times they stay stored in my head for years, and I am as surprised as the next person when my fingers start typing on the keyboard and a personality from a long ago chance encounter somewhere appears just as real as day.
    I have trained myself to visualize down to the smallest detail such as in this trio of flash non-fiction from a recent visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario.
     Each piece occurs in a different restaurant and with a rather varied cast of characters. I just happen to be sitting in the right place all three times, and I cast no judgment on what I observe.


     A family of six – four girls and their parents – select the grand breakfast buffet at the hotel with the view of the Horseshoe Falls. I wonder how that will work out, and if it is worth the price for normal finicky child eaters. I watch a different scene unfold, though, when white cloth napkins are spread over laps almost in unison. 
     The dad had been occupying a large table by the window and waiting with a cup of coffee for the family to arrive from upstairs, and as they do, each child gives him a big hug and a good morning greeting. He has that teddy bear feel to him and his squeezes are warm and natural like it’s an everyday occurrence.

     Right away the family fans out in all directions to check out their food options. One by one each child comes back to the table with her plate loaded with personal choices, and between give-and-take conversation planning out their touring day, they eat a hearty meal. The smells of fruit, pancakes and bacon abound along with a laughter level suitable for a public place. There is not a picky eater in attendance, and the boxed Fruit Loops are consumed equally as well as the hand-built omelet. I get the impression that this family is comfortable dining out.
     Once the middle-sized child slips out her iPhone and her dad immediately gives her a knowing look with an arch to his dark eyebrow. She slips it back into her jeans pocket, and resumes eating her waffles topped with whipped cream and strawberries while pulling back her long brown hair into a ponytail. 
     When it looks like the family is all finished, the youngest daughter decides that she wants an extra serving of white toast. She swings her pink Ugg boots underneath the table, and politely asks the waiter. Everyone waits patiently while her order is filled. She carefully butters and spreads on the grape jelly thickly with spillage over the crusts onto her fingers. She takes bites as if she doesn't have a care in the world. The teenage sister rolls her eyes, and resumes chatting with her mom about a potential shopping excursion.
     There is no whining, sulking or barbs between sisters that could launch off into a tirade or two. It’s not a “les misérables” family vacation gone sour before it gets off the ground at first base. Mom is relaxing into her own space and dad is stepping up to the plate taking charge.
     Did I mention that there is a seventh member of the family present? The tiny grandmother is the most inconspicuous of the entire group, and whether or not she was already tired of it all and tuning it out, is not my concern.


      Niagara Falls is for lovers, and the elegantly dressed white-haired French couple in their seventies sit side by side in the round upholstered booth facing the colorful illuminated falls view while sipping white wine. By the second glass their bodies are closer together almost rubbing shoulders and his hand rests over hers. They leave in a glow after a third glass, and my guess as to the rest of the evening is as good as yours.

     A spindly size zero woman continues her lettuce leaf regimen and is in agony from her facial expression with every mouthful of caloric intake. She painfully picks away at her veggie plate as an afterthought not letting the meal get the best of her waisteline.
     I wonder if her shopping afternoon was more satisfying, and she cashed in on the value of the dollar; or could it have been the hours in the spa slathered in the latest skin hydrotherapeutic regime while drinking seaweed brew by the gallons that made it a super day.
     Her partner’s meal is sweet potato encrusted Atlantic salmon and he consumes every mouthful with no guilt whatsoever while expounding upon the layers of flavors to the disnterested skinny woman seated across from him.

     A winter getaway to Niagara Falls is a great opportunity if you handle cold weather optimistically. The Butterfly Conservancy. The ice wine. The gorge overlook walk.The friendly attitude of the Canadians.