Nuggets of Gold

Last Friday,* I attended the Baden Street Gala and silent auction. This annual fundraiser celebrates the amazing work done through Baden Street Settlement and recognizes individuals who are making a difference in the community.

When Rodney Allen Young, Senior Relationship Manager and AALDP Coordinator, of the United Way, got up to receive the Trent J. Jackson Community Impact Award, he was inspiring and eloquent. What surprised me about his acceptance was that he talked about how much he wants to make a difference in the world. As someone whose work has focused on African American Leadership Development for the past 16 years, I see him as already making a huge difference through his mentoring and guidance, and his encouragement of so many to be their best selves.

We are often our own harshest critics.

I believe  most people aspire to make a difference in the world. While we may not have the wherewithal to become a Mother Teresa, a Bill Gates, an Oprah Winfrey, or a Stephen Hawking, the ripple effects of kindness, generosity, compassion, understanding, volunteering and “going above and beyond” in one’s job can have more impact than we might ever imagine. I recall so many gestures of kindness that probably meant little to the individuals who performed them, but that were pure nuggets of gold to me.

So as you pursue the goal of making a difference in the world, don’t forget to scatter the path with nuggets of gold, because it’s as much about the journey, as about achieving the final destination.

Into whose life will you drop your nuggets of gold this week?

*Originally published in the October 24 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.

Of Cooties, Confessionals and Igloos

I have been thinking about practical solutions for dealing with the Coronavirus, especially as we begin battening down the hatches against Jack Frost.

The first idea comes from my religious upbringing. You see, I grew up Catholic*, and there is one tradition I believe would be quite useful right about now: The confessional.

I’m talking about that little black box that has two human-sized, darkened compartments on either side of a wall that houses a screen through which to communicate. Traditionally used by parishioners to have contrite and penitent tête-a-têtes with their priests, the Coronavirus version would allow two friends or family members to have jovial heart-to-hearts without fear of exchanging convivial “cooties.” Of course, the pandemic versions will have to be retrofitted with a drain in the bottom and plastic kneelers and seats. After use, you just hose them down and spray the screen with Lysol. Voilá! I can just see it now. If my idea gains traction, instead of bake sales and craft fairs, churches can make money using a branded rent-a-confessional app! And imagine the bonuses! In one short visit, you could get a 3-C triple-header: Confession, Communion and Conversation, all in one visit!

While that may help with our social interactions, we also need to come up with a solution to save restaurants, because dining en plein air quickly loses its allure when you have to chip icicles from your nose to get the fork to your mouth.

Well I’ve come up with a solution to that too! Restaurants that will be deprived of their outdoor seating options in winter can simply invest in some of those clear little plastic igloos like you see at the holiday bazaars and festivals. Up to eight could enjoy each other’s company, cozied up together in an igloo, warmed by candlelight, hot food and frenzied shivering!  Once the group is done, hose down the inside, put it back outside to freeze again, and any leftover cooties are trapped in pandemic permafrost.

You see…all we really need to deal with the Coronavirus is a little ingenuity! And humor. Lots of humor.

P.S. I am an “equal opportunity” humorist, so any religious irreverence is meant only to amuse, and not to offend.

Photo by Kevin Kramer.

Published in the September 10 issue of Beyond the Nest’s Free weekly newsletter of arts, culture and recreation.

Note: I normally publish these post 6 to 12 months after they’ve originally published. I’m publishing this two weeks later in great optimism (or is it sheer insanity?) that the topic of coronavirus will be obsolete six to twelve months from now.

Of Verandas, Communications and Coronavirus

Have you ever thought about how our outdoor space has altered to reflect the changes in our communications?

In my grandparents days, it was common for houses to have sprawling verandas and welcoming front porches facing the streets, so home owners could catch cool breezes on warm summer days and chat with folks passing by. In that way, everyone kept up on community gossip and the news of the day. These architectural additions were not just a barrier, or even a transition between the outdoors and the interior of a house, these spaces were gathering places, protecting the privacy of the home and family, while providing hospitality.

Then, as automobiles gained more prominence, making streets noisier, and as TVs, fans and air conditioners became American staples, front porches shrank in popularity and size, eventually giving way to back decks and patios. Although I’m no architectural historian, it feels as if there’s a direct correlation between the 24/7 news and social media cycles and the disappearance of space in which to engage with the broader community. In many neighborhoods –  mine for example – residents know each other mostly through the dogs they walk. Front porches were to engage with everyone, back decks and patios welcome selective few.

Think about our communications for a minute.  We’re battered all day long by people wanting to “break down our front door.” We’re bombarded with emails, newsletters, newspapers and magazines, TV and radio ads, snail mail, social media, imessenger, facebook calls, texts,  slacks, phone calls, and now zooms and webinars. If alterations in our exterior space reflect these changing communications, it’s a wonder we haven’t all built moats around our houses.

Now, that the coronavirus that has become an unwelcome visitor for what appears will be the long haul, what I wouldn’t give for a good, old-fashioned, giant, wrap-around veranda, onto which I can invite friends, and the passing neighbor for long chats in person, while still socially distancing.

Architects, are you listening?

Originally published in the July 16, 2020 issue of Beyond the Nest, a free, weekly e-newsletter or arts, culture and recreation.

Of Comets, Odds and Heavenly Bodies

Last Friday night, my daughter Danielle and I were talking about the comet NEOWISE. named after NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission. Formed of ice and dust, and measuring around 3 miles in diameter, this comet comes close enough for us to see for a period of about one month every 6,800 years.

The odds of us being here to see it reminded Danielle of something she’d learned in high school: that the odds of a human being born at all are Infinitesimal. Out of curiosity, I looked it up and basically, humans have about a 1 in 400 trillion chance of being born.

Now, my friend David Ross (he’s the husband of our publisher) Professor at RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and College of Science, and a brilliant mathematician, would undoubtedly be able to figure out the odds of someone being alive right now to see it during the month or so the comet is observable. He’d probably have to adjust for the number of cloudy nights, and probably some other factors I hadn’t thought of, but there’s no doubt the number of zeros on those odds would be even more daunting.

We’re living in a time of cataclysmic upheaval and change right now, because of coronavirus and political and social turmoil. Sometimes it’s very hard to focus on the positive.

But somehow, when you stand under the darkened summer night sky, sprinkled with stars that twinkle like fireflies, and you can view a comet that comes along only once every 6800 years, it helps you focus on the bigger picture…that our heavenly bodies are lucky to be here at all, and that it’s important to make our shining existence count.

While we can’t all be comets, we can all be stars in someone else’s universe. Whose universe will you brighten today?

The photo above of NEOWISE was taken at a park near Pultneyville by friend and professional photographer Dick Bennett, co-owner of Image City Photography Gallery


Post was written for the July 23, 2020 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter. 

Channeling Imelda Marcos

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the shoes s/he wears. I surely hope not. If shoes were represented by TV shows, mine would call up images of Golden Girls, when, at heart, I’m really Game of Thrones or Sex and the City

You see, I’m an Imelda Marcos wannabe. When the Marcos’ palace in the Philippines was stormed after the overthrow of her dictator husband, over 2700 pairs of shoes were found in her closet. I wouldn’t really need that many to be happy. She had manufacturers delivering 10 pairs a week to her door, I’d just be satisfied if the postman didn’t have to cart away almost the exact same miniscule number he delivers.

My fascination with shoes started at around age 8. A diagnosis of “flat feet” destined me to ugly, black, man-shoes in fifth grade. Just about the time I cared what boys thought, I found myself wearing boy repellents (or so I thought). I greedily eyed those Keds, PF Flyers, and even the hand-me-down saddle shoes my friends wore.

If I had moderate difficulty finding shoes in stores throughout most of my life, the internet has removed all possibility. It’s as easy to find an 11 Narrow in a store now as it is to find a Democrat in the White House.  Even online, 11 N has become as rare as a dodo bird in heels..

I long for a return to the day of the cobbler, where you’d walk in, he’d measure your feet, and you’d come back for a pair of shoes designed exactly for you! I’m seriously thinking of taking a class in shoe making. I’d design shoes for those with the wildest tastes — á la John Fluevog — and the largest and smallest feet, because I’m certain I’m not the only odd woman out. I bet even Cinderella would be forced to wear flip flops to the ball in this age of the internet.

Just this week, I saw that my friend Thomas Warfield is hosting an event as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival that’s entitled “My Life with 400 Pairs of Shoes.” He’ll showcase his shoe collection of 40 years by sharing life and shoe stories – and he has some real sparklers, in both!

If I did a version of his show, mine would be more like Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Socks.”

New Socks?
Two Socks!
No Shoes?
Got those no new shoes blues.
Originally published in the August 15 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.

Finding Your Niche

I recently received an invitation to attend a landmark class reunion from high school. I seriously contemplated going, and probably would have, had my daughters not been returning to college the same weekend.

I admit that I faced it with ambivalence. I was never one of the popular kids, and was occasionally the target of bullying, until I discovered that bullies back down once you stand up to them. Somewhere along the way, I managed to find friends, mostly in the arts groups I joined, who accepted and liked me for my quirky, unique self.

Now, as a mature woman, I’ve been fortunate to discover friends among whom I feel not just accepted, but truly cherished. I hope I make them feel the same.

One of those groups is a small cohort of women documentary filmmakers. Our much-anticipated monthly luncheons are always interesting, often educational and inevitably restorative. Our discussions range from poignant or serious, to hysterical and wildly entertaining,as we plan our monthly Rochester Documentary Filmmaker screenings.

And although I don’t know it for a fact, I daresay each of these women may also have had a challenge finding her niche throughout grade and high school.

After receiving the photo I share above, taken by one of the owners of Premier Pastry on South Avenue, where we stopped to pick up cupcakes after our luncheon, LM texted, “I am so grateful to be on the planet at the same time as each of ye.”

LC chimed in with “It is great to be one of the cool kids for once!”

In truth, she always was.

We all were.

Sometimes, it just takes a while to surround yourself with the right people who recognize it.

P.S. The assorted pink and white boxes above are filled with Premier Pastries’s luscious cupcakes, and in the background, you see just a hint of some of their spectacular wedding cakes!

Originally published in the August 1, 2019 issue of Beyond the Nest’s Free Weekly Newsletter of Arts, Culture, Recreation and things to do around Greater Rochester.