Of Sand, Snowflakes, Humans…

I recently read a fascinating article about how Dr. Gary Greenberg, the biomedical researcher who started his career as a photographer and filmmaker, and who invented the high definition 3D microscope, has been micro-photographing sand particles at a magnification of 300 times their actual size. The photo at right is one example.

It turns out that these tiny granular bits are composed of remnants of tropical sea organisms. Depending on where the sand comes from, the grains vary greatly from location to location. Their composition and appearance are affected by the temperature, surf conditions, and marine environment in which they’re found.

Although no one has yet postulated it, that I know of, Dr. Greenberg’s photos suggest to me that grains of sand are as unique as snowflakes, for which scientists estimate there is only about a 1 in 1 million trillion chance that any two snowflakes are the same.

Which brings me to humans. Have you ever thought about how wonderfully and truly unique each human being is? It’s something most of us probably take for granted as we go about our daily lives.

I have twin daughters. When our family sent our DNA samples to Ancestry.com, my daughters’ analyses came back at different times. When the second report arrived, it said, “(Name of twin) is either you, or an identical twin.” Their DNA is that alike.

Yet as much as they look alike, have similar interests, habits, friends, and share almost the exact same DNA structure, each is as unique and beautiful as one of those microscopic graina of sand or a snowflake.

We all are. Our heredity, family, background, life experiences and interests make us marvelously rare and irreplaceable.

So the next time you look in a mirror and are tempted to find fault with what you see, or criticize yourself for not having the skills or attributes of another, instead, take a moment to celebrate how very unlike anyone else you really are! Across the sands of time, there will be only one YOU. How fortunate are those of us who live in the right time and place to have the delight of knowing you!


Originally published in the July 11, 2019 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.

What I’ve Learned from My Pets

Most people think we train our pets. If you have one, you know, it is SOOO the reverse! Why else would my sister and brother-in-law jump in the car the minute the dog starts barking that it’s time for his daily car ride? Or freeze on said ride in 28° weather because Duke (the dog, not the husband) likes to hang his head out the window?

Oh, I don’t dispute that I have been trained as well. If you’ve ever slept under blankets with a cat nestled against you on one side and the dog wedged in on the other, you know what it’s like to be pinned to a cork board. And the silly part is you don’t just remove the push pins. That would be as heretical as removing the child’s or grandchild’s artwork from the refrigerator door!

Of course, there are important things we can learn from our pets. Here are just a few tips I’ve gathered that, surprisingly, apply to both work and life:

Canine observations

  • No matter how fast you run or how high you jump, there are some squirrels you just won’t catch and some trees you cannot climb. (I guess being a size 8 will have to wait for my next life).
  • There are tricks you should just never learn! Learn the trick and you’ll perform it forever. (Why I don’t clean popcorn poppers and never learned to start the lawn mower).

Come to think of it, there are quite a few things I was smart enough NOT to learn.

Feline observations
  • Persistence pays. Jump on the table or counter enough times, and you will win your rightful perch. (One catveat: If they resort to water spray tactics, you must claim your perch only when they are not around).
  • You belong anywhere you want to be, and no one can stop you!
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. Dinner, car rides, dog walks and treats come much faster when you make a ruckus. (Apply that to your own life).
  • Understand your target audience. Identify who’s the soft touch for what you want (in canine speak, that’s treats and morsels from the table).
  • Never underestimate the value of a good, warm coat.
 So, what invaluable life lessons have you learned from your pet?

Cooking Up a Little Trouble

Have you ever noticed the look in their eye when spouses approach with news they know you won’t want to hear?

They have a certain walk…kind of hunkered down, like a gun slinger on Metamucil. They size you up to see if you’re ready for the news (you never are), plant hands on hips, wait a moment, then shoot out, “I want to cut 50% of the meat from our diet.”

This, from the man who’s the poster boy for every steak house in town

As frothy annoyance bubbles up toward anger, I excuse myself to go shower in order to keep from morphing into Ursela, the Sea Witch.

Now why does this perplex me? Because over the years, I have spent more time swapping menus for said husband than Chef Ramsey has spent swapping insults.

I should mention my husband’s idea of cooking is popcorn. With salt. And no butter.

Okay, I exaggerate. That was pre-marriage. The occasional grits, scrambled eggs and grilled steak have since crept into his repertoire.

As cascading water pummels the Sea Witch out of me, I arrive at a solution.

“So, I have a proposal,” I announce marching into the living room. “I’ll make one meatless dinner per week, if you make the second. And it can’t be popcorn.”

To my delight, he agreed!  He even began sifting through cookbooks for recipes. Wednesday of the following week, he proudly produced an entree of  eggs, grits and cheese. As we finished, he humbly noted, “This probably would have been better as a side dish.”

In week two of his cooking adventure: Broccoli and Tuna Casserole with Cheese.  For week three: Grilled Steak. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Happily, Ursula the Sea Witch, being blatantly ecstatic to get a night off from cooking, didn’t even tease him about the fact that steak looked and tasted an awful lot like meat.

Ode to Village Green

Last week*, I read the disturbing news that, after a “tumultuous year,” Barnes & Noble is being sold to a Hedge Fund company. I have such mixed reactions to this announcement. I’m thankful the book seller will stay open, but I really wonder what a hedge fund will know about selling – really, loving — books.

Having grown up in a rural area with few nearby neighbors, books were often my companions.Through them, I traveled time and geography, met new “friends,” and got to solve problems, murder and mayhem from a safe distance. The right kind of book can even give you an emotional hug. What can’t a book do?

I still think about Rochester’s Village Green. It may be due to nostalgia, but I recall it as being one of the most charming bookshops I’ve encountered. It was located on Monroe Avenue near one of the apartments I lived in following college. There was magic in the air when you walked into that book store, almost as if the hum of all the authors’s words whose work adorned the shelves danced about the shop. The photo above was taken at the Village Green, but doesn’t begin to capture the magic.

Times have changed. Self-publishing, online sales, audio books, blogs, social media, the demise of newspapers and magazines, and electronic delivery of words have all taken a bite out of bookselling. The booksellers who do stay open must find ways to  continually create magic for their patrons, even beyond the books themselves. Today’s publishers have to be ever more selective and booksellers must be ultra-conscious of budget.

I really hope the new hedge fund managers manage to find a way to make money and magic mix.

Originally written and published in the June 13 issue of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.

Where All Sides Face the Sun

This past Tuesday, my daughter came to me and said, “Hey mom, they’re putting black squares on social media today for Blackout Tuesday*.”

I run multiple social media accounts, but hadn’t heard about this yet, so I quickly added black squares to all the accounts, including the ones that focus strongly on the Black community. My belief was that those squares were being posted in memory of George Floyd, and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Then yesterday, a group of us who coordinate a filmmakers’ collective discussed whether we should follow suite with the many organizations putting out anti-racist statements.

I commented, “I have seen dozens of them in the past few days, and the more I see, the more they annoy me. You have to walk the walk, not talk the talk.”

In the end, we decided to make changes to our mission statement to better verbalize the goal that has always been part of our mission…to include all voices.

Then, this morning, I read two articles in the Hyperallergic newsletter:

  • Black Squares Don’t Save Black Lives – “If you consider yourself an ally to Black people, it shouldn’t just be about you or how you feel; it should be about how you can help.”
  • The Bulldozing Effect of the Black Square – “In the present, the black square says nothing about what is still needed to push things forward, and in the future, the black square will tell historians nothing about what we did.”

In truth, I felt stung by these perspectives that seemed to denigrate trying to show solidarity in a visual way.

Then I realized I, in the same way, had dismissed the good will efforts of all the organizations putting out anti-racist statements to show solidarity.

Essentially, these actions are both right, and both wrong, at the same time.

We’re right to show solidarity, but wrong if we think mere visuals and statements make a difference. All they really do is show which side of history, which side of civil rights, which side of life we’re on. They show on which side of those peaceful protests we stand. They are simply symbols indicating we are willing, even eager, to work at equality for all.

And it’s a start.

We understand that it’s only a start… that it’s akin to the act of picking up a hammer to work on building the foundation of a new and different structure that needs creation, where all sides face the sun.


*Learn more about Blackout Tuesday and its subsequent backlash

Back to the Future

When I was a kid, on rare occasions my family would go to the drive-in movies in Auburn, NY to see a double-feature. The first film was generally a Disney film, and the second that came on, long after my sister and I were asleep in the back of our pink station wagon, was a film created for the grownups in the car.

I’m sure if my parents had known I was actually awake to see James Bond’s escapades with women, they’d have been horrified.

I loved  drive-in movies. Back then, the audio didn’t come over your car radio. You pulled an audio box into the car on the driver’s side, then rolled up the window to keep it in place  while trying to keep mosquitoes out.  Of course, the driver had quite an earful if it was an action flick!

Then there was the mandatory trip across the darkening, firefly-gilded parking lot to the concession stand, where the scent of popcorn laced the air at 100 or more yards.

I understand that, thanks to the coronavirus, drive-ins will be making a comeback this summer. A young man I know is ecstatic! He posted on facebook, “This has been a personal dream of mine. I am so happy.”

I keep wondering if these time-honored attractions will feel the same…drawing reminiscence of family outings and teenage make out sessions. I hope so, but I suspect the very cause of why they’re making a comeback may undermine the magic a bit. Or not.

I understand one of their proposed uses will be for televised political rallies. I think I’ll pass on those. I’ll be waiting for a good ole double feature where I’d enjoy both the films.

Wouldn’t it just be appropriate if the one local drive-in I know of in Avon, NY, (the Vintage Drive-in) opened with Back to the Future?


Published as the editorial in the May 14 Edition of Beyond the Nest’s free weekly newsletter.