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Bumble Be Big

“Bumble”. He’s 14 months young, … and huge.

Walking by his rather small car cradle the other day outside Sam’s Club, I was drawn to Bumble’s puppy face. You would’ve been, too, had the owner’s permission been granted in your favor as well. The kind gentleman loading boxes of goodies into the back of a non-descript SUV suggested kind words and gentle strokes are saintly acceptances for Bumble. From his response to my momentary attention, I believe this was the case.

Meaning “brave as a bear”, Bernard as a moniker attached to this sizeable, furry tot may be a bit premature. “Saint”, as well, could be up to those who decide such things. Now, to squitch the two together and imagine Bumble for work as a rescuer on the Great St Bernard Pass on the Italian-Swiss border? This I could see because he has such a sweet personality. The little experience we have as dog whisperers considered, sometimes we can just sense these things, right? … Or, think we can, anyway.

Dogs force us into a parallel universe of humanity. They make us talk funny, act weird, and spend a lot of money on upkeep, toys, and treats. I see it happen a lot and don’t even own a dog anymore. None of this is unfortunate for human or canine – it just, well, is.

I have friends who call their pets by nicknames that rhyme with the dogs actual names. Maisy the Daisy – although changed to protect the innocent – is one example. Names can also fluxuate depending upon the circumstance. During difficult, disciplinary times, names become “-natored” as in “Aargh! … Fido-nator! You pooped on the carpet, again!!” Sweet, affectionate moments are dessert-ed and verbs get awkward s’s attached to them. “Awe, my lovable little Fido-cakes! … I loves you so much!”…

I get it. Some have a dream to be smothered in puppies for hours. Admittedly, a few minutes under a bundle of Bumbles would be nice up to the point when oxygen intake becomes a problem. Thems are big pups to state the obvious here. Can’t imagine the food bill … or the, er, back end clean up ahead for the owners.

All I know for sure is it was a breath of fresh air seeing something different and magnificent the other day. A Saint Bernard puppy named Bumble didn’t know he brought a little joy into the worlds of folks going about their lives. A rather bland parking lot full of cars and people, well organized into a daily routine of go-here and go-there, was the place to pet a large, gentle creature and forget why the troubles of the day weighed so heavily on our shoulders.

He is, after all, bred to rescue. This is pumping through those large veins of his. Sure, it’s not a snowy mountain range where we struggle to survive. A sunny day outside Sam’s Club in Altoona, Pa is hardly roughing it by any standard. My new Sketchers wouldn’t handle any snow depth over 1/4″ and, most certainly, any hint of a degree less than 60 at this point would be wholely unacceptable.

He rescued us from our normal. Happy times, if only for a moment. Normal is good, too. Don’t mean to throw routine and everyday under the bus here. When special and unique crosses our path – like a 14 month old puppy like Bumble – we should stop to appreciate how wonderful a ” step aside” can be.

That day, when I happened to stumble upon Bumble, I walked away with a lighter bounce in my step. Can’t say he’s totally responsible, but I spent way more money than planned while inside Sam’s after the encounter. Darn Bumble-nator had me feeling good about myself … causing me to over stuff my cart!

I guess I’ll give him a pass this time. After all, he’ll be a big boy someday and I may need an actual rescue on the Italian-Swiss border. If that happens, I’ll forever be grateful to the Bumble-muffin who saved my life.

Eleven Windows

We are in the middle of a major renovation. Our sanctuary no longer has carpet, pews, or an alter gracing its space on the corner of Union and Allegheny. Wooden sub-floors, a tightly sealed organ, and chandeliers will greet you if visiting in your future. Bare it is – as it should be. Our planning/renovation committee is hard at work making sure this stripped down space is, once again, colorfully clothed again shortly after Easter. We hope.

Yes, we hope. Up to this point, there have been some snags in the planning carpet. Nothing major, of course … anyone would expect some nicks and snickers. We worship, now, in our fellowship hall anticipating all goals meet a spiritual bulls-eye center a few months from now. We plan as if it is up to us, however, meditate because it is up to a greater force to decide how and when we will sit in that beautiful space once again.

… and a beautiful space it is. Eleven windows, with the sun’s daylight help, dance colors across wood floor sub-panels, paint fumes, and scaffolding. The unfolding of the gospel story, one stained glass panel at a time, is beautifully told through multiple vivid and dramatic pieces … meticulously placed for generational reflection.

They stand in watch awaiting our return.

We will go back within a few months recognizing the artistry that has been there all along. Steady and unchanging – these will be stalwart around new pews, carpet, and a paint hue not too far from what was already on the walls. These windows haven’t changed. They have a new border color, however, as a black onyx trim hugs each.

I’ve paused a few times … standing among disassembled scaffolding and turpentine odors late in the afternoon. Three large walls and eleven windows. Windows and walls, I’ve seen close to six decades now, speak quiet words across a very empty, large space every time I visit. I’ve heard these windows speak a message. The essence is one of eternal beauty in the midst of renewal.

These windows are us.

We are beautiful. We are, at our core, eleven unchanging, colorful, vibrant windows. Our sanctuary, this body shell we use to house our windows, is always changing, renovating.

Our windows are compassion and love for others, self-acceptance, creativity, honesty,
generosity, humility in the service of others,
optimism, patience, and sympathy &
empathy when appropriate. All of these
shine through our sanctuary that changes
and bends through problems faced and solved days, weeks, months at a time.

We are those eleven windows inside. They are us. There for generations, I finally saw them inside myself after seeing them outside for close to these six decades of life.

We should always work on our sanctuaries – keep renovating, changing. The beautiful, vibrant windows always allowing the light out, and in, for the benefit of others, and perhaps ourselves, will always be here to remind us we should never lose hope.

Compassion and love for others, self-acceptance, creativity, honesty,
generosity, humility in the service of others,
optimism, patience, and sympathy &

Eleven windows for a post-Easter celebration at Zion. Better yet, … anytime, anywhere, for any reason.

A renovation renewal for one … but for all.

It’s Christmas Eve, After All

It’s Christmas Eve. 5:24, to be exact. I am sitting on my little red chair beside the organ at Zion Lutheran Church. A break in the service as a sermon is about to begin.

No worries. I have two more services tonight to catch up with the Pastor’s message. Already, I have almost missed the third verse of our Hymn of the Day. This is my first service back after a week of miserable covid isolation and stress. To have been nearly absent-minded over a few lyrics is, I feel, a passable offense … considering.

It’s almost Christmas, after all.

The church is full. For once this year, our pews are relatively packed. Normally on a Saturday service, Santa and his reindeer could comfortably slide to rest in between any two people. Families I’ve never seen are happily filling in the spaces between beautiful stained glass windows. I cannot see empty diagonal lines from front to back.

It’s almost Christmas, after all.

I don’t know what our Pastor is talking about right now. If his message has anything to do with the gospel lesson, John is involved. There’s an ocean of red pedals in my line of sight, but no magnificent colors being painted by the sun through those wonderful stained glass windows. They are dark. The sun sets early these days.

It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Bitter cold embraces everyone’s outside breath. A cold spell came through yesterday which I thought would have dampened attendance this evening. The once-a-year faithful still crunched their way in, however, to see the decorated altar … and, possibly, to be seen by their peers. I recognize so very few from my perch up front. This is not to cast judgement upon anyone. Perhaps if I wasn’t providing a needed musical service, I would be the same on a very cold, bitter Saturday evening … 5 hours before this most celebrated Christian holiday of the year.

It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Of all the candles lit, only one solitary taper can be seen from my corner settlement. It’s a view so familiar to many a generation of organists who have graced this ornamented chair upon which I sit.

The Pastor’s message is leaning into a lonely shepherd. I am listening now – the second service of three this evening. I see one candle, yet there are many I know on the altar I cannot see, but are there. I see less friends here than before, but I know other friends are, possibly, holding their candles brightly at other places of worship. They are being shepherded in different ways.

It’s almost Christmas, after all.

It’s not just this moment. Many times I’ve heard, “… the presents are wrapped and trees are glistening with bulbs and tapestries of all shapes and colors.” Joy and merriment, as expected, has been seen in the eyes of children. Adults have been about meeting at coffee shops and restaurants – exchanging holiday smiles and hugs – discussing family plans and holiday hams. Packages have arrived from around the globe. Air tubes carrying passengers have flown millions of miles to destinations where anxious travelers finally embrace loved ones in crowded airports.

It’s almost Christmas, after all.

… and does any of this really matter?

I have no presents wrapped. No trees are decorated. Very few, if any, relatives are around anymore. The few I have here – daily – struggle with life in their own way. Distances, not measured by miles, separate us. Life is, well, life.

… and does this matter? YES! It’s almost Christmas, after all, and to what extent this holiday presents itself to any of us … it STILL matters.

It’s a reason to recognize what we DO have. Maybe not necessarily what we want or need, but simply what we have. Seems simple enough.

Strip away all the glitter and wrapping of the season. And yes, I dare say the “Reason for the Season”, platitudes so evident all over digital media these days. All the sappy gospel songs need to be shelved for a small period of time to sit and think. Reflect. Admire all we have. If it’s only a breath to get from one moment to another – that’s a thing.

Life seems more real this way … at least for now: an almost Christmas, 2022.

I have a third service to play. Tomorrow is, yes, Christmas. I will go out to eat with some friends and family. That’ll be a thing to celebrate.

There are always nuggets like these to have in our pockets. Memories to gather. Experiences to share with friends and family. Wrapping paper fades and trees are stored 11 months out of the year. “Wham!” will, of course, continue to torture us with, “Last Christmas”, until our collective ears bleed … this is unavoidable. What shouldn’t be missed are all the little, fun, memorable times we can tuck away to remember all year ’round.

So, tonight IS a time to remember, reflect, and recall all the special moments we have in our lives.

It’s almost Christmas, after all. Let’s unwrap tomorrow with all it’s present magic.

For now, Pastor Dave just started his third version of that same sermon. I am here, again, for one last time. Ornaments, the Christmas tree, … I’m finally listening to the whole message. The ugly tree ornaments. The shepherds, marginalized, were like those ugly ornaments hidden on the back of the Christmas tree. The gospel writer Luke, however, writes positively about shepherds. They are lifted up. Hope among the lowly, as it were. This is the message for this Christmas eve.

Thank you for being here. Today and tomorrow matter. Always. Christmas or not, days are special, after all.

Because every moment matters, look for the unseen candles in your life.

…and Merry Christmas, anyway.

Franco, Mom, and Me

When the news came, I was shocked – just as you most likely were. He was a legend in Western Pennsylvania. Still is. His unexpected death has not changed anyone’s opinion of this man’s accomplishments on, and off, fields of play and business. He is Franco … the only black and gold #32 most of us ever knew. The one we will never carve out of our childhood memories, or forget meeting during a chance encounter.

I never met him. Since his passing, though, I have become aware some of my friends met him in the past. Pictures of happy embraces grace my feed. In some instances, proud autographs are displayed. Just through those secondary seconds in time, I can imagine wonderful conversations. He must have been a gentleman.

There may be no other way for me to hug the moment – that is, to eulogize a man I only knew through little pieces of 2-dimensional cardboard – than to say: He must have been a gentle man.

This. From a musician far removed from any gridiron grit … who spent his time watching the sport mainly through colorful picture cards with posing players who never opposed anyone while in their inanimate state. This was my Franco, Terry, Lynn, and Rocky experience. Nolan, Roberto, and Mr. Yount became frequent visitors to my afternoon bungalows as time whisked away in imaginary playfields with my sister … and possibly a few friends who happened to stop by.

The real magic happened if a sickness (especially on a school day) happened to march into my sinus dugout. Up to bat came Mom to pinch hit with fresh wax packs of marvelous cards to open. Yah, know – to assist me in the “healing process” … I’m not sure if this was ever Dr. approved, but Mom always knew how to lift my spirits. Of course she did. Mom’s know. She was a gentle lady.

Yes, she was.

This Christmas will be the 10th without her. This is a hard holiday. Hard – not because she’s not in the kitchen baking cookies, or we’re not playing piano duets. Hard – not because the pinochle deck isn’t spread out all over the table beside a few unfinished puzzles of hers. Hard – not because we can’t talk and be goofy together.

Hard because of that gentleman, Franco Harris. Hard because I can’t ever give Mom anything back in return for what she gave me: love, respect, kindness, compassion, caring, and humor.

You see, the card above is the very last present I opened from Mom. It was randomly inserted in a pack of cards she bought, unopened, from a local hobby shop. She knew I love sports cards. Of course, she knew.

She was so sick. With only a few months to live, this was her gift. This pack – containing no guarantee of anything – was purchased and wrapped. Weeks later, opened by a very grateful son.

Decades earlier, I was sick. Fast forward. There I was feeling equally grateful to receive a pack of cards from my Mom – now, she was sick. Difference being, I would get better in a few days.

She died a few months later.

I’ve looked at this card every Christmas. The weird thing about all this is the serial number:

“It’s a Christmas miracle, Mom”, I whisper to myself every time this card appears before my teared up eyes. #12/25 could not have happened without the love and respect Mom and I had for each other throughout our lives.

Things like that happen because they have to. The piano connection was, almost, too easy. She needed a more clever way to stay in touch with me.

Yesterday was a Franco, Mom, and me day for sure.

Sunday will be a day to remember Mom, again, as her Christmas absence will be felt. That 2011 Certified Fabric of the Game relic card sits in a special place to be pulled out and cherished for a few minutes as usual. This year, I will pause an extra minute or so to honor Franco Harris as well.

He is the man I never met, but feel I’ve known my whole life. Through it all … he’s been with me in 2-dimensional form, however, has made a 3-dimensional difference in my life thanks to Mom.

She is hard to miss now, but was easy to love.

Merry Christmas, once again, Mom. Franco sends his best your way.

Why This and Not That?

Over the course of a normal life, what happened last night was insignificant. At the moment, however, the difference between bowls of Italian wedding soup and chili was noteworthy. I ordered chili and then immediately regretted my decision once a bowl of wedding soup sat deliciously next to me … to be supped up by another. My immediate comment, while staring down into a tapestry of kidney beans, ground beef, and tomatoes? “Why this and not that?”

The previous 48 hours were unhealthfully challenging. A long twelve hours ER stay after a personal health challenge made decision making foggy. This restaurant visit was a first after being poked and picked over like a fresh berry bush. Sleep had been spotty, of course, with food and fluid intake starting and stopping as if in a nutritional traffic jam. Nothing normal.

My side still hurts from something … not sure what. The mysteries of our dark, inner spaces remain. This was of secondary concern, as it sat marginally away from what was primarily messing with my malfunctioning vascular-goober system. I don’t understand any of this. Melodic tunes make more sense to me than medical tubes. I know more how music beats, less about the electrical impulses of a heart.

In the time it would have taken to play a few Bach Inventions, I was erased out of awareness the other morning. Preferably, the former would have been my choice. Life had other plans.

Why this … and not that?

I had a choice between chili and wedding soup; however, there was no choice between consciousness and blanklessness at 7:15 a.m. on a beautiful Thursday morning in early November.

In addition, there was no option when a doctor you’ve trusted for years says, “Off to the ER you go. I am your doctor first … and friend second. You look horrible, your blood pressure is way too low, and I don’t have the facilities here to treat what may be wrong with you, …” (When I finally got in to see him five hours after getting off the floor…)”… let’s call and ambulance for you.”

In the ambulance, a paramedic gave me no choices. Sticker shock, diabetic checks, blood draws, wires, straps, beeps and blips. Oh, and rather pleasant conversation during the 15 minute bumpy ride to a local hospital.

We don’t have choices sometimes – especially when our health is involved. Last Thursday was a downright surprise. No warning, no “head’s up” …

I have some idea the cause … maybe. It might be easier to reverse engineer Mahler’s 3rd symphony, however. At least those notes are – if you’ll allow me some leeway here – black and white, stagnant, immovable, and predictable. Our bodies are living, breathing, aging, interlocking cellular game pieces constantly changing the rules as they move around the board.

According to medical notes, doctors I met in the ER made their best guess and discharged me after 12 hours. They made a choice. I had to agree. Hoping all my “numbers” met their approval, a tired, weary, hungry self of mine headed home…

And so, after a full day’s respite, I was faced with this: a bowl of chili … and not that: a better looking bowl of Italian wedding soup – realizing we make choices and end up with a result that is second best; Or, don’t have a choice what happens to us and do the best we can.

Best summed up as: I wanted life to be this, but got that instead, or why this and not that?

There are worse situations than what I went through … I’ve witnessed them in person. These wake-ups tweak a different part of my brain – that part where two bowls of soup take on a different meaning. I am reminded our choices in life are important. Acceptance of what happens to our health is also paramount to a healthy outlook.

Ok, maybe not soup, but some this and that’s circling about do make a difference. Choose wisely when you can, stay hydrated, and eat healthy foods.

That’s the best I’ve got for you on this day. At least until I get that bowl of Italian wedding soup.

Kim’s Path

Photo courtesy of K. Calderwood

Three kids. I know, these three … again. They’re just so easy to write about behind a standard Samsung tap-away screen. My thumbs gladly take time away from their piano playing, hot dawg slinging duties to grace in one word at a time. It’s a joy.

Today, however, isn’t about what’s behind this phone or ahead for those well-loved children on their way to another happy place.

This pleasant October digital morning dedication is for the one who is always behind these pictures … the mom – the “always there” encourager. She deserves recognition, love, and support.

I don’t know why today seems like the day to acknowledge her. It just … does. This isn’t new. I’ve known and admired Kim a long time. From the time she timidly walked around the corner of a dining room to take her first piano lesson until now, there’s been a special bond. Years it has been. Too many, almost, to count.

In many ways, she set the standard for hundreds of students to follow. Yes, there was – and continues to be – an extraordinary pool of genetic music material woven into the fabric of her family. This, alone, is never enough, however. It takes work and dedication to play well. Kim put in her time and effort. Was there struggle? Of course. Did we laugh along the way? Absolutely.

So, we had the past … and have the now in 2022. Both of us are years away from those black and white experiences. Family dynamics have changed. Locations in our lives are significantly different. In a phrase, “life moved on …”.

Even though time ticked forward, memories stayed and social media, thankfully, allowed us to continue forward. Through this medium, I became aware of her magnificent photos. (Of course, it helps her three kiddos are ridiculously photogenic). This, combined with my love of amateur words and phrases, made a perfect pair once again.

Teacher/student. Photographer/writer. Thus…

Her daughter’s physical expression above tells the story for me. She encapsulates Kim’s story. The outstretched arms and hope for the future – while leading the way for her younger siblings – embodies Kim’s essence. She was the leader of her own two younger siblings who, in their own right, are spectacular, successful young adults as well.

Yes, all moms deserve love and support. Of course they do. The mom behind the pictures I love to write about earns my love and support today – not only because of the wonderful lives she’s giving her kiddos along side her husband, but also simply because Kim is … Kim. She is a person who overcomes adversity, faces life head-on, loves every life experience she can find, enjoys her friends, adores music, and dedicates all she has to family.

For me, she is still that little girl who peeked around the corner and whose feet barely touched the floor the first time she sat down on the bench.

What she didn’t realize as time went on and her playing matured, my respect for her barely touched the floor … and hasn’t since.

May her path forward be as joyous as the picture above, and may every image to come inspire words yet to be written.

So far, it’s been my utmost pleasure to walk along the path with her.

Our Infinite Blade of Grass

I find the universe an unending source of fascination. From the kuiper belt inward and outward toward distances unknown with red shifting celestial objects, all of it hugs my never-ending intrigue of infinity. I am not Neil deGrasse Tyson brilliant by any means, nor do I possess the brain-wares close to an Einstein. What is locked into my 3 lb cranial matter, however, is the ability to read fancy terms and come up with some constellation of ideas that never end.

Space never ends, too. As mortals seem to understand the matter, … it goes, and goes, and goes. “What’s after the edge of the known universe?”, my mom always said. Probably more expanse? Additional infinity, possibly. If you consider the size of the know universe as 94 BILLION light years across, this fact is so ridiculously unthinkable that infinity is a concept nearly beyond consideration. Nearly, yes … but reachable for a few minutes of my time this morning. What, really, is 94B light years plus one, anyway?

Infinity is a time abstraction.

I sit here at my desk thinking about time. On StarTalk a few days ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson was considering the age of our local universe since the Big Bang. He analogized the span of time with a football field’s 100-yard distance from one goal line to the other – A gridiron/timeline of the universe, as it were. A 14 billion year measurement funneled down into format most of us can understand with our little 3 lb number crunching, synapse-firing spectacular wiggles of matter.

Cosmic time intervals are so large, we need help pulling them into a scale we can grasp. Fourteen billion … 14,000,000,000 years. Ugh.

His analogy was better than most offensive plays the Steelers tripped over themselves so far this season, I must admit.

Place the events of 14B years on a 100 yard field – where would the events happen? If one considers a southern goal line to be the start of the Big Bang, our solar system does not begin forming until about the thirty yard line on the north side of the field – seventy yards away. Around the four yard line, single cell organisms became multi-cell organisms with legs, eyes, antennae, i.e. sensors for what is happening around their environment. “Cave dwellers appeared at the near side of the thickness of the blade of grass at the zero yard line”, according to Mr. Tyson. (Yes, we are talking about blades of grass here) …

Through the thickness of that blade of grass at the ZERO yard line, … Moses, Jesus, Mohamed, agriculture, …then US. We are hanging on to that last blade – on the far edge with our dangly toes barely able to NOT kick up the fine, white powder beneath our feet … 100 YARDS AWAY !!… 14,000,000,000 years away.

Supporting all this has been the James Webb telescope and the progress of science. Change has been a constant. This is why I am so fascinated by small, upward glances toward space and wide open perspectives into astronomic ideas and access into, almost, the entire universe…

And infinity, of course.

The cosmos does not exist for us. It can’t. Our planet could disappear tomorrow and the gazillions of galaxies and mega-trillions of stars will live on as if the Steelers, Yankees, and Washington, D.C. had no emotional power over us. Stars incubated for nearly 10B years before our local solar system decided to blink awake. Our sun is estimated to live for another 5B years before it morphs into a red giant as it enters into its dying stage of existence.

I don’t find any of this depressing at all. Infinitely captivating, actually. Looking inward at what we do have and can control, I don’t see oceans of emptiness. I see a paradise equal to – if not greater than – what we can ever know about the cosmos.

We exist to be always looking up, ever vigilant of the opportunities in our lives. This is what the universe, ultimately, means to me. It is a copious supply of possibilities every time I read, or observe, anything in its shimmering darkness. No matter what is squirming about in my local universe, I can always find a little star somewhere – a nestled bright spot hidden in a celestial sphere on a friend’s face, in a piece of music I am playing, or simply woven into a kind conversation.

These are endless and plentiful for all of us. In a way, infinite.

I never did answer mom’s query. She asked it more than once. My hope is her soul rests easy among the stars at that very edge of infinity. All of our questions will be answered some day. This is my hope.

As for the present time and place, I will find my refuge in the unanswered and precious 14 billion years presented before all of us. They hold a magnificent portion of infinite wisdom in their age. I am glad they cradle our existence and look forward to an additional 14 billion more.

… However, if actuarial tables hold true, I have only .0000000017857th of that time to learn more. Oh well, when my time ends, I’ll just hang out with mom at the edge of the universe and see what happens. We’ll have an infinity’s worth of time to figure it all out.

Point to the Wonder

Smiles coming to life. On faces of children, on a big yellow balloon, wide open happy expressions appear across a field of green. Pointing to the wonder of it all, one little soul decided it was – truly was – a moment in time to celebrate. “Look! LOOK … share this lucky, merry moment with me, please!”, so gleefully proclaimed.

I dare say this exclamation of joy was returned by not only a large, yellow, inflatable hot-air human carrier in the distance, but also a little lady a few feet behind. Delight all around.

Laughter lifts spirits just as warm air rises. Possibly, into the blue sky went a dozen balloons moments after this picture was taken. Perhaps these inflatable pockets of joy were settling down after lofty rides on pIeasant breezes? In either case, I am sure giddiness followed.

This is what it means to be young. Directing attention to all that is wonderful … not knowing why it is so, just that it is. Astonishing colors, amazing shapes, and fabulous sizings add an imaginary reality to clean, perfect slates of innocence. Three children. United by sensational, youthful direction … led by the outstretched arm of one. Youth captured.

Pointing us to their youth.

… Pointing us to reminders of our youthful exuberance layered between adult experiences – colors, shapes, and sizings we’ve since covered up with grown-up frustrations and responsibilities. Our adult warm air pushes down on our souls. It takes Hurculean effort to catch up, let alone keep up, with the Jones’ across the street. The “mature” balloons we occupy are grounded, but not indefinitely.

We know the culprits: bills, work, relationships, car and house repairs, health issues, etc … all the crop-ups, granted, single-number age breathers don’t need to face.

None of these are excuses to point away from wonder, however.

Let’s constantly look for ways to notice the balloons in our lives. We can expand our joy as wonderful warm air swells into pleasant experiences we witness – giving rise, in return, to our every dayfullness.

This is how life should be.

Smiles coming to life shouldn’t happen only to little ones. We, as adults, need to crack open the hard shells with pointed enthusiasm- just as they do – and remind ourselves life is a one-time-around experience.

Now, go find a field and point to the wonder. Find what your joy looks like and breathe it in. Stand in your field where the vibration – that is your soul – surrounds the you that is you. Listen to music. Look, and absorb, the art of the masters. Read the words inside covers of your favorite author’s books. Walk between trees where the shade lays ahead a calm path. These are youthful, wonderful inhales.

Happy expressions, joyful lessons … simple reminders from one outstretched arm, three children, and one big smiley balloon and friends.

So much wonder.

Reaching at Leaves

While walking past all-so familiar store fronts during an early afternoon fall walk, I was pleasantly struck by a few descending leaves. One landed on my shoulder, two bounced off shuffling shoes on their way to their own off-day destinations. All reminders that fall had arrived.

A late straggler hung in the breeze. I followed it with my right hand – trying to grab it from its own fall goal. No success. It continually teased my grasp from a distance inches away. A thirty second dance pursued – between a leaf and a man – for a distance of three concrete squares on a sidewalk. Allegheny Street, possibly, never knew such awkward grace, or a twisted tapestry of steps. A leaf and a man. A dance.

For the rest of the day, I looked for opportunities to reach for leaves. Falling ones, especially. For there was no success earlier. That single, one leaf passing through my hand left a void. Its brothers and sisters across the town were waiting my passing, for sure.

Now, this wasn’t a primary goal. I had a to-do list that, initially, didn’t involve chasing after leaves. In reality, I would guess none of us get up expecting to be unexpectedly, graciously, grazed by falling leaves … like I did. These kind of wonderful happenings just, … well, … happen.

… and, I am so glad they do.

It had been months since I’ve written words here. When that one leaf fell beyond my reach, I was suddenly reminded how long it’s been – how “out of reach” this space has been – beyond my grasp, … my awareness, my front-of-mind.

We get so distracted. This is the centerpiece of sermons, books, and motivational talks. Stuff occupies our steps and our minds are ever busy with the next thing to do. Ignoring the essences of our lives – words and melodies making up our unique blend of individuality – seems to be the norm. And it shouldn’t be.

We need to constantly pay attention to the now – the magnificence of this moment.

Plan for the future. Hope for good things, of course. Have faith in what you can accomplish. Fold into your gifts.

I needed that particular partner the other day. It fell away not knowing, though.

Sometimes, what is valuable lands in our lives on a breeze and stays for only a brief time. Be that leaf for someone, perhaps, as they walk through life. Let them reach out to you as well. Maybe, just maybe, you will be a little beyond their grasp, but will make enough of an impact in their lives that their words will come alive again.

Say, “Hello” to a stranger. It could be the leaf they need to see fall before their very eyes. A reminder that life, now, is the most remarkable experiences one can have.

A Toddler’s Playground

That distinctive aroma of gravy and turkey spun its way around the corner of our old kitchen into a small dining room. A traditional Thankgiving meal was almost on the way. Mom, of course, would be the last to arrive at a table with an informally placed, odd selection of chairs seating a similarly odd hodgepodge of family members.

A typical family holiday. Mom insisting that everyone be seated before she sat down. Dad fussing over something of which we had no idea. Perhaps a fondue pot in the center of the table surrounded by dark green vegetable trays on top of a brown, yellow, and orange table cloth all set the tone for a 70’s Thanksgiving feast.

This particular year was different, however. Aside from all the normal scuffle-abouts, the children among us – myself included – were pre-instructed to be on our best behavior, if possible. My Uncle John was bringing a special guest home for the holiday .. a friend of his … a gentleman singer/associate he met while both sang as members of the elite US Army Chorus.

I don’t recall the specific year, however, I do remember where I sat and the specific quote. “Keep an eye on him,” Uncle John said, “…he’s going to be a big star some day and go places!”

Clint Holmes went on to be a major headliner in Vegas – and is to this day.

I can’t really wrap my mind around sitting next to him that Thanksgiving day fifty years ago. Only a few feet away sat a young man in a very humble house, in Hollidaysburg. His life unfolded in quite a magnificent way. Uncle John nailed it.

The other day, this picture roused up that memory.

“Playground in my Mind” was released in 1972. The Clint Holmes recording became one of his all-time biggest hits. I listened to the record over, and over, … and … over. “Where the children laugh and the children play / And we sing a song all day” are my favorite lyrics in this wonderful song. Doesn’t this picture speak that magic?

Kiddo magic – running into a playground to laugh, play, imagine, and dream. We forget, as astutely mature ones, what it was like to be inquisitive … to run into mysteriously fun places to touch a universe of unknowns, or examine tiny fascinations.

Look at these two little ones. If they could fly, they would. One foot off the ground and the other toe-tapping a ground barely in existence under their joyous toddler beings. Beyond the covered bridge is a magnificent playground in their mind … just as Clint Holmes loved and sang in his mind a half century ago.

I am so honored to span the generations with music. The power of music holding hands with memories is spectacular. In so many ways, we are connected – variations of words, music, and spirit.

In no small way, two little ones helped me re-live a memory I haven’t experienced in decades. Also, they reminded me to skip a bit easier through the challenging covered bridges in life.

As Clint sang, maybe try, “Living in a world I left behind…” once in a while.

It is a fantastic song. Look it up and dare to pass through the troubles in a moment’s time to experience a happy, giggling, peaceful, generational playground in your mind.

Those two above, and Clint, would have it no other way.

The Lowry Estate Lesson

Yesterday, I missed a turn and the town. How this happened is really nobody’s business – except to say everyone I asked to help confirmed my suspicions: The landmark I was looking for existed in my brain – just not anywhere Google maps was sending me.

Why have I decided to share this seemingly mundane waste of gas? Because Google maps sent me to a legit address smack dab in the middle of a two-lane, busy highway. Yes. The famous, “You have arrived …” voice plopped my Mitsubishi exactly on two solid yellow lines one-half mile up from a local water reservoir … and not a house, tent, outhouse, or cabin in sight.

My choice words forced a u-turn. Perhaps it was a sour attitude that elicited a less-than cooperative attitude from the locals. They didn’t know where the Lowry Estate was, either.

I’ve been a native of these parts my whole life. Apparently this estate has the oldest stone home in the county. Being unaware of this fact threw coal into the already simmering furnace of frustration.

I was attempting to scope out this location a day ahead. Yesterday was a busy day and I had little time, today, to find my way here.

Yes, I am here now. Twenty-four hours ago, it was doubtful I would ever know. Shipping myself and luggage to Mars may have proven easier to do.

So close yesterday, apparently. Wrong turn, wrong town. Google … Wrong. So … What was the problem? Time clicked away and so did the little patience I had left.

Hey, why not check the brochure for the event? One. More. Time.

Yeah. Duh. It really IS nobody’s business, however, please pay attention to the little things in life. This will save you a lot of u-turns, cursing at the air in your car, blaming Google, and uncontrollably twitching one eye at strangers as they do their best to help.

Yep. I typed in the wrong town all along. There are two identical addresses for neighboring towns. Now, why in hell one would be in the middle of a busy highway? That’s for another time.

The correct one helped me arrive yesterday just in time to know the where’s and what’s for today.

Upon arrival today, I stopped to pay attention to the first little thing I saw. It was this pond. Still, it was. Quiet … as only a few of the Civil War re-enactors have arisen for the day. Canadian geese are meandering around and shades sneak around the grove of trees in the meadow where I am soon to set up.

It’s a fantastically calm day. Yesterday is but a blip in the day-in-the-life of “not playing attention” to the little things. Had I done so, right?

Lesson learned, but doomed to be repeated I am sure.

For today, though, I will enjoy this sublime pond five paces behind where I sit, the view of a glorious stone mansion, and visitors coming in to experience a few Civil skirmishes during an almost perfect weather day in July.

Good news for all … Those attending were able to get the town correctly the first time. I say, they knew the value of little details this weekend.

I’m here now. It was the long way around, but destination achieved!