It’s Hard to Stay Zen in Rush Hour Traffic

I admit to being a nervous driver. It started in high school when my driving instructor used to grab my clenched fist off the steering wheel to get me to relax. It’s a good thing he had a brake on his side too. Lampposts make very odd hood ornaments.

Then there’s the 23 years I spent in New York City. NOT driving. You don’t need a car in the Big Apple. Especially in winter. I still have visions of shoveling my kindly-donated 1960s-something Buick boat out after the avalanche, er, snowstorm of ’85.

As I stood on its snow-covered hood lifting teaspoon after teaspoon of snow off, the guy that drove by, opened his window and shouted “good luck, lady!” was treated to a newly-invented expletive.

After three parking tickets, a bout of shoveling-induced bronchitis and one dead battery, I finally got it out, and I sold that beast.

So here I am, now, in Rochester, where I try to avoid rush hour. People from metropolitan areas like NYC laugh at our idea rush hour. In their minds, Rochester Rush Hour is to NYC Rush Hour as a Venus Flytrap is to Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors.

What they don’t realize is that the very same people who will start up a cordial conversation across the frozen foods aisle in Wegmans will pass you on both sides, doing 80 in a 45 mph zone.

Since sensible truck drivers avoid NYC highways like the plague, I bet most have never had the thrill of playing highway hopscotch with a truck. My personal favorite is the pickup that melts metal as he spreads past on the shoulder.

My husband handles all of this much better than me. I tell him it’s because he missed his calling as a jet fighter pilot.

Every morning that I do have to drive during rush hour, I steel myself as I get in my car. I turn on my classical music, do deep breathing exercises, and back carefully out of the drive, feeling confident, competent and Zenfully-relaxed. That usually lasts past one church, one hospital, one Tim Hortons and two stop signs…until I hit the stop light that boasts its own 911 location code.

That’s when I wonder if there’s any money in publishing a dictionary of invented expletives.

 

Written and originally published in Beyond the Nest’s 9.6.18 newsletterClick here to subscribe to the weekly newsletter featuring an editorial and loads of things to do in the Greater Rochester region.

Audrey II from Pooh’s Adventure Wiki

Evil auto from TurboSquid

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Reminiscence of the Dog Days of Summer

When I was a kid, my family lived far out in the country…or at least it seemed that way. I remember those country summers with great fondness, and probably more than a bit of time-induced nostalgia.

As summer neared its close, I and my beloved younger sister-sidekick awaited with mixed hope, dread and anticipation those manila envelopes that would reveal the name of our teachers for the coming year. Meanwhile, she and I spent our days searching for kittens in our neighbors’ hay barn, picking wildflowers that grew by the side of the road, and roving fragrant, alfalfa-laden fields in search of grasshoppers to cup gently in our hands, so we could watch them launch to freedom, from our palms.

In summer, it was almost as if there were two different worlds — one for adults, who unbuttoned shirt fronts and lifted hair from the napes of their necks. their voices lazily punctuating the hum of fans. Our summer flowed even more languidly, for feather and temperature had little consequence.

To us, each lovely, hot, sunny, summer day made the cicadas sing and gave us reason to wade all the deeper into the cool, sun-dappled water of our neighbor’s creek, in search of polliwogs and minnows. Our pup Patty — named for the Saint on whose March 17th date she was rescued from the pound — often splashed alongside, sending creek critters scurrying, and thwarting our attempts to bring home a surprise specimen to our Mother, from whom we inherited our love of animals.

I realize those summers of my youth are from another moment in time, deliciously preserved in memory.

As the end of summer hastens, I invite you to think about, and savor those smells, sights, sounds and memories you cherished during an earlier time. Retrace one of those moments with someone you love by eating s’mores, collecting shells on a beach, catching fireflies, creating chalk designs on the sidewalk, playing a game of softball, or whatever activity allows you to recapture the joy of childhood’s dog days of summer. 

In the photo above, I am on the left at about age 7, my sister on the right at about age 6 and our pup Patty is center.

Originally published in the August 30, 2018 issue of Beyond the Nest’s weekly newsletter.

Time Travel: Have Your Cake and…..

BigBangTimeMachine1My husband likes to watch science fiction programs, which I sometimes watch with him. One sci-fi concept that simultaneously fascinates and perplexes me is time travel.

From Dr. Who to The Big Bang Theory, the characters extol the virtues of time travel: you can go to the past and avert some terrible calamity from happening or go to the future, completely jumping over some dreadful current event. Yet in the next breath, they tell you not to mess with the time line. Heaven forbid your past youthful self sees your current present-day self.

Honestly, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t be a problem. There is no twenty-something on the face of this earth who would even recognize his or her middle-aged self, or believe such a startling transformation could possibly happen.

Actually, I can think of a number of ways time travel could be beneficial. Take dieting, for example. You could indulge in that sinfully tempting piece of chocolate cake, then jump two days ahead. If you step on the scale and discover you’ve gained a pound or two as a result of eating it, you could go back 15 minutes before you ate it and refuse the serving. That way, you could have your cake and UN-eat it too!

Time travel would also be incredible when it comes to picking spouses! Imagine being able to discover whether your future In-laws are as meddling as they seem, whether your prospective spouse ever actually learns to cook or is just paying lip service, or whether your partner’s charming personal quirk of “being able to sleep through anything” remains so charming when, seven years down the road, he or she is snoring soundly while you are attending to your three little children who are all up barfing at 3 am.

Hmmm…come to think of it, time travel might not be so great for the institution of marriage. Suddenly, I’m wondering if some scientist saw the risk of what could become of his or her marriage, went into the future, and UN-invented time travel.

Time Machine photo above: Courtesy of the Big Bang Theory

This is Your Brain on Electronic Devices

A study recently revealed that too much screen time has been linked to ADHD. The subject for the study was teens age 15 to 17. Imagine if they had studied adults who were never screenagers. I shudder to think what they’d discover screens do to the 45+ year-old mind. Visions of a frying pan with cracked eggs come to mind, along with the tagline “This is your brain on Electronic Devices.“

Don’t believe me? Why, just last week, I wanted to download one single photo from my facebook album. A quick little task, right?

An hour and 43 minutes later, I was still on facebook.

In fact, during that one visit, I’d ordered a licorice bouquet for a friend, learned why some people are far more appetizing to mosquitos than others, watched the latest James Corden Carpool Karaoke, bookmarked a recipe for curry-flavored mojitos, and booked a trip to Iceland, in spite of the fact that their main industry is fish processing. It must have been the promise of all that snow and ice, because we just don’t get enough of it during winters in Rochester. Or maybe it was the fact that 70% of the residents actually believe in elves. You just gotta visit a place like that.

But of course, I still had not downloaded my photo.

Facebook and other social media companies make money from the ads they serve up to users. Honestly, I think they’d make far more money if they could figure out how to make money every time someone gets sidetracked. Yes, I  mean sidetracked when using social media, but I also mean every time someone gets sidetracked when the electronic device-inspired ADHD kicks in, in real life.

Maybe you can identify with this:
Me, looking for the keys in the bottom of my purse: “Oh here’s the BJ’s receipt I was being held ransom for at the exit…Okay, who dumped a piggy bank into the bottom of my purse? Drat, my wallet’s open…Yikes! I still have to mail this check to the IRS! No wonder my bank account’s not on life support yet……Ugh, purses should not wear red lipstick!…Tissues! Must put in tissues before movie. They should come up with a tissue rating for films….Oh no, I shouldn’t have put these earrings in here! Now one’s broken. Who do I know who had her nose pierced recently to give the other to?…Ah, that’s where that cat toy went….

My husband, from the other room: “Hon, you’re gonna be late! Did you find your keys, or do you wanna borrow mine?”

Me: “Keys. Right. That’s what I was looking for.”

They’d make a fortune.

Photo above courtesy of Cyclone Bill 

What’s Your Superpower?

I recently saw Incredibles 2. This is the fun sequel to the animated film written and directed by Brad Bird 14 years ago, about a family with superpowers, fighting to save the world.

It got me thinking about superpowers. I realized most people possess these heightened abilities, whether or not they recognize it…perhaps not the ability to move at the speed of light or walk through walls…but unique, personal abilities they wield in their own way.

Last weekend, when I met up for lunch with three friends from grade school (we reconnected through facebook), I think I surprised them when I asked each about her superpower. After a good laugh, and almost without hesitation, each quickly responded. Sue said, “resilience,” Donna replied “my ability to empathize with others,” and JoAnn noted, “The ability to make the best of everything, and laugh at whatever life throws my way.”

I then asked my sister Ellen, who shared the story of telling someone she was “Never a mother, always a Mom.” Ellen never had children, yet she has a deep reservoir of love that she shares without reserve, and that  gives her the strength to be there when others need her most, just like a Mom always is.

As for my husband, years ago I recall his telling me that he felt he wasn’t a “good enough” dad for our twin daughters.

“I don’t know what to do with them. I just don’t have your ability to connect and play with them,” he worried.

Yet he found his own path, infusing his humor into parenting, and introducing our daughters to activities and events I never would have. I’m not even sure he’d see this as one of his superpowers, but I know and appreciate that it is.

As for me, I’ve long considered my writing and photography to be two of my superpowers. If I can inspire and entertain, or capture the essence of someone in a candid moment, that not only gives me pleasure but I hope, also gives back to others.

So what’s your superpower?  Once you identify it, I dare you to ask your friends to share theirs! I guarantee it’ll be an interesting conversation, and you might just be surprised at what you discover!

Written as Editor of BeyondtheNest.com and published in the June 28, 2018 newsletter issue.

Maybe It Isn’t You

Last week, I went to a conference in Baltimore where I knew no one. Many at the conference had been attending for 15, 20 or 35 years, so there was a well-formed community who already knew each other. This didn’t bother me because, having been involved in tourism and hospitality, I’ve become comfortable talking to folks I don’t know.

This time, though, I felt as if my skills had let me down. I’d launch a conversation with someone, and after a few sentences, they just floated off to a group of people they knew. In one case, a young woman who sat at my table turned to her phone, not even responding to my question. When she won a raffle prize, I again made an overture, “Congratulations…how great that you won, and what a fun prize!”

She smiled wanly and returned to her phone.

Except for conversations with exhibitors about products, most interactions were similarly non-interactional, except for Anne.  Anne ran an art gallery, in addition to working at a community media station. She thrives on talking to artists, galleries visitors, prospective clients and others. We had a lovely lunch together.

When I skipped part of the conference during which there were no sessions relevant to me, I thought about what I might be doing wrong. I’d tried to be friendly, upbeat, and ask engaging questions. I smiled when standing alone…all the things you’re supposed to do. Still, nothing seemed to work.

Upon returning, and still somewhat disconcerted, I mentioned my experience to a colleague who’d attended in prior years. He acknowledged having had a similar experience. In fact, he’d skipped part of the conference, so he didn’t have to interact with people who were reluctant to engage.

I finally came to the conclusion that maybe it wasn’t me. Most of those folks worked in the tech side of media and seemed more comfortable with technology than people. If I’d either known them for a while, or been asking about technology rather than content, I bet I’d have had more success. Technology topics would have been within their comfort zone.

If you think about it, this type of experience applies to far more than meetings. How often do we have interactions that don’t go well, leading us to blame ourselves? Perhaps we have a meeting with a boss, a cashier, a prospective employer, even a spouse, or fellow conference attendee that goes awry.

It’s important to reflect on the interaction and what happened, especially because, half of the interaction is the other person’s responsibility. If he or she is uncomfortable in the circumstances, or having a bad day, or not feeling well,  or…, or…, or…, the outcome may be beyond your control.

So maybe, and quite possibly, the cause of the problem isn’t you.

Originally published in Beyond the Nest’s weekly newsletter.

Heroes on a Local Stage

Over the past week*, everyone I know has been inspired by the collaborative rescue efforts in Thailand to bring the boys’ soccer team to safety after having been lost for two weeks.

Emotionally, we stood in unity with the parents of each missing boy, imagining a loved one in that situation. With each boy returned to the arms of  relatives, we’ve breathed a collective sigh of relief. We’ve offered silent prayers and salutations to the rescue crews for their determination, dedication and commitment to getting those boys out alive, no matter the risk.

This rescue mission happened on the world stage. Every person who knows of the rescue also knows of the courage and heroism it took to overcome insurmountable obstacles.

Every day, there are stories of courage, commitment and compassion that never make it into the news. These are the stories of unsung Heroes…some in uniform, some not…who make a difference.

Sometimes they’re fighting fires or fighting crime, other times they’re fighting ignorance, illiteracy or illness. Sometimes, they’re volunteering at soup kitchens, running book or backpack drives, sharing the Arts with those who might otherwise not have access, rescuing abused pets, delivering companionship and food to the elderly and ill, building houses for those in need….

Occasionally, these people receive recognition, more often, not. If you really think about it, many people you meet are unsung heroes in some way.

So today, not in any way to reduce the importance of what they’ve done, but as a way to honor the many heroes of the Thailand rescue operation that you can’t thank in person, why not take a moment to show your appreciation to one of the many unsung heroes within our own community that you can recognize? I bet you’ll make their day, and sweeten your own as well.

*Originally published in the 7/12/18 issue of Beyond the Nest’s weekly newsletter.