Simply, A Cookie and Me

From five feet, this miracle happened. I have no explanation other than a Chips Ahoy supernatural phenomenon. After over fifty years of jamming these cookies into my mouth – without dropping a single one on any floor, it finally happened. Outside … over a newly painted brown patio, one slipped through my piano fingers.

… And landed on its side. Straight up, perpendicular to the the floor, six inches from my sandaled feet. I looked down in amazement. One cookie. One mistake in over five decades of chocolate yumminess and I’m rewarded with a miracle. Yes, a mystery that can’t be explained by a previously waiting-for-a-cookie crack in the concrete, or softness of said cookie that’s advertised as crunchy.

Quickly, I summoned my phone, then my appetite. A five second rule be damned. Even in the midst of a once-in-a 2/3 lifetime event, snack time needed to be obeyed after finishing a few chores. Sure, this wasn’t a mega-million dollar lottery ticket or a $3.7 million Honus Wagner T206 baseball card find during a beautiful Saturday mid-afternoon, last day in July. It was, simply, a cookie on its edge.

If I had the time and tried 256,000 times, the cookie wouldn’t have landed that way. This, today, was purely a chance event. Ok, “miracle” may have been uber-dramatic, but maybe there was some kind of supernatural force at play? Perhaps the physics god stepped in to give me some levity today?

Whatever the reason, having a delicious event happen at my feet was satisfying … necessary, and ironic.

I took today off from my business. Strange to do so considering I was scheduled to be at an event. This was only the second time in sixteen years I’ve skipped out on a cart commitment. When staring at that cookie, I was subtly reminded why.

It was on edge – as I have been recently. Thus, the mental health day. A once-in-almost-never occurrence for a cookie … and me. I believe it was a nod from the universe confirming my decision to reign in a current swirling mental state. By saying, “no”, to agitated brain waves in constant future mode, I’m finding today to be an unfamiliar calm.

A day with nothing except breathing and eating is noticeably different. I’m writing under no duress, but comfortably under a nice summer sun while thinking only about the next few words and sentences.

Tomorrow, thankfully, is more of the same. A two-day weekend including … no business. It’s been forever since I’ve had one and don’t anticipate another one for a while. Thank you, July 31st and August 1st.

Please take care of yourself. Don’t let life get so busy you need to see the miracle of a cookie on its side to remind you being on edge isn’t healthy. Finishing a whole package of Chips Ahoy isn’t healthy, either, which is what I’ll probably do by tomorrow evening.

That’s just what I do. If any fall between my fingers tomorrow, guaranteed they’ll land top down, bottom down, or crack into pieces. As long as these marvelous snacks are the ones cracking up and not me, I’ll consider my decision to not be on edge one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time.

…. And a miracle.

A Not So Lonely, Beautiful Tree

An oak tree. A big, majestic … friend.

I spent hours looking at the mighty oak. Across a dull, paved lot, my eyes hovered beyond my concession trailer for two days. This lonely tree became my friend from yards away. Too busy to closely introduce myself, the only way to communicate was through imaginary vibes … those thoughts a busy man and a tree – both firmly planted in their spots – can have.

I know, maybe this friend didn’t know I was a short leaf dance away. Then again, perhaps he did. Nice enough for me to know he wasn’t lonely during this past Friday & Saturday event visits.

Imagining he was extraordinarily lonely occupied my time. Over multiple decades, tens of thousands kinfolk must have walked by his thick, aged truck. Entering the stately halls of our Jaffa Shrine in Altoona – paying no attention to his wonderful symmetrically round presentation seconds before – they quickly forgot what wasn’t seen. A friend welcoming them.

For two days, in between flipping burgers and cheese-steaks, I noticed. What struck me was how much attention has been paid to the Jaffa building itself … with the circuses, concerts, and events over the past 90 years since the first brick was laid in 1928. The land on which it stands was originally purposed for farming and, by all accounts, my friend stood as a witness to the construction begun on the purchased property. Oh, the history behind his bark and the sights and sounds hidden in rings of mystery.

So loyal he’s been. Granted, what choice was there? Never uprooted physically, but perhaps a bit miffed at folks so drastically changing a landscape, was he. Since years when depression-era backhoes and shovels ravaged a calm, singing meadow, he’s seen busy Broad Avenue paved and re-paved many times over, 23rd and 22nd streets uncobbled, and his own luscious green wide-open, turn-of-the-century meadow partner flattened by impersonal parking lot tonnage. The manicured lawn above his underground historical account could be considered a small token of respect given by the current occupants, I suppose.

So little attention paid. This is a broad assumption on my part. How would I ever know if another friend held out an imaginary or actual cordial hand? No dedicated visitor tree log is happily kept inside the large glass doors under those big red J-A-F-F-A letters arched over a symbolic masonic sabre with a half-moon dangling underneath. Few entered with second thoughts about what they passed. A friend … still standing.

Yeah, I did think these thoughts. There were a few moments, at the end of my Saturday event, to walk over and ask to pull a leaf for clarification. A welcoming, low branch gave me the opportunity to eventually narrow my friend’s name down to, “Mr. White Oak”, thanks to a personal contact and a leaf/tree identification app..

Sometimes, life gives us really cool, new friends. We need to look across weird, dull, bland spaces to see them. They’re only yards away and need our company – if only in that imaginary, vibrant world available in two-day stretches during an otherwise everyday food cart existence.

Yours isn’t a behind-the-grill life I’m assuming, but look up and across from your eyes-down tasks and chat, silently, with a tree.

He, or she if you prefer, will be that friend who will listen without judgement. Theirs is a world of steadiness and majesty, beauty and kindness.

It truly was hours … off and on as sandwiches and drinks were steadily shifting from my hands into the hands of customers. By the end, I was tired. Exhausted from the heat, lack of sitting, and, … yes, nearly six decades of life. Oh, to stand still and just … relax.

Driving off the lot, one last glance back reminded life can be steady, calm, and still … Then it dawned on me: Maybe we can be that tree for someone who needs to see across their empty, dull space? There’s certainly no log book for majesty and beauty, but momentary imaginary friendship when needed the most could be a welcome change.

I’m happy to have a new friend. A big, majestic friend. Perhaps Mr. White Oak in front of the Jaffa Mosque on Broad Avenue in Altoona, Pa, isn’t aware of me. That’s o.k.. In my imaginary world, thoughts and conversations between a busy man and his wiser, bark-laden friend are permissible.

After all, I was always told to listen to my elders.

Slow Down and Feel Groovy

As a worn sidewalk caressed the bottom of my hurrying soles this morning, Simon & Garfunkel rested notes on my soul. I couldn’t get rid of them. You know what I mean. Every so often, darn lyrics songfully plant themselves in our brains and we can’t stop silently singing them over and over.

I was rushing around with too many errands draping off my to-do list. Clamors from passing cars and screaming kids were more annoying than I’m used to which indicated a higher level of stress coursing through my veins. I was searching for sounds of silence when another Artful Paul tune entered my space singing, ” Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last …”

… Not bad advice. Not bad at all.

Steps forward were slower, measured, and calm once those lyrics began to digest into my morning breaths. The previous two hours didn’t matter as much anymore. All the earlier run-arounds, bad news, and mail grabbing sat alone … beside me they were abandoned as I reclined against a kind tree for a spell. It’s not that I didn’t care about a good friend suddenly in the hospital, or a credit card bill, … I had to stop and “let the morning time drop all its petals on me”. Simple.

And so, I sung “Feelin’ Groovy” in my head for a bit while passers-by wondered why the right fingers and left hip – of a slightly off-centered, closed-eye guy in his 50’s – were happily grooving and snapping to inaudible sounds. Hard to pull off in public, I know, but completely necessary when life is a bit too much to handle. Yes, steps forward from those tree-leaning moments were un-hurried and peaceful.

Ten minutes back to a car two blocks away. Best guess, that distance took less than two minutes in my scurryful state earlier in the morning. “Just kickin’ down the cobblestones”, but not appreciating any of them, happened to be a state of mind I didn’t appreciate when jumping in and out of three businesses, two banks, a post office, a church, one café, and gas station. Filling time, I guess … “Gettin’ er done”, as some friends would say. In the groove of busyness, however, not really enjoying any of it.

Mundane, everyday, with tints of exhaustion and over-expectations of what I can actually handle was this morning. As one very respectful business owner once advised, “You can do anything you put your mind to, just not everything“.

Yep. Isn’t that most of us, though? We try to do so much … and in the midst of it all, we forget to feel groovy and enjoy ourselves. Trying to do everything all the time isn’t helping the situation we’re in – whatever life bubble that happens to be.

My plate is full. Simon & Garfunkel don’t know how full it is. To say, “I got no deeds to do, no promises to keep”, would be one heck of a whopper to tell at this point in my life … and one lyric line from “Feelin’ Groovy” that doesn’t jive up with my life. As the song Pete & repeated, that lyric laughed heartily. I get it.

You know what? Don’t care.

I had to make the morning last … and last it did. Once my steps strode easily, a pulse eased. The drive back from town? So much less, since frenetically jammed tension built up by sad news and work expectations were left in the soil by a tree. Since then, work-stuff with phone calls and expectations are still present. Those are being handled at a slower metronomic pace.

… Kinda like a sweet strumming guitar on stage.

Remember to slow down, please. There’s no better control over anything going on than your willingness to stop for a few minutes and feel groovy. Sounds silly, I know.

For me today, there wasn’t a lamppost to ask, “What’cha knowing?”. Perhaps for you, someday there will be. Ask away and get some answers if needed. I don’t have the answers to anything. All I know is slowing down was the best thing I could have done at 10:35 this morning on the corner of Allegheny and Union. Moving too fast over feet isn’t a good plan, overall.

You gotta make the morning last … and make it count for all the right reasons. Be that reason. Look for fun, feel groovy if at all possible, and keep those songs repeating in your head.

Somehow, I Made It

Nothing to write about with everything to say.

Finding time to sit down and type in a few words has been difficult since my last post. What I am not is an internationally well-established author with impeccable writing skills and multiple book tours in my past. With that in mind, missing six days wasn’t going to set off a major crisis in the literary, online, blogging world.

Taking time aside to care for loved ones, run a business, nap, and munch on a few snacks in between time crunch duties was important enough to step back from the interweb typing thing. Glad I, necessarily, did. Loving life, while extremely busy, is rewarding apart from online duties when serious concerns feel heavy on my heart.

There’s no picture. A tag-along above to assist is not here. Any photo or image to accompany today’s thought wouldn’t work.

Today is Friday. Finally, a day off from meats in buns smothered with gooey sauces and chosen veggies. No “famous” chili-mac-n-cheese servings or shouts of “everything” burgers with Doug’s Dawgs stickers being delicately handed out. No customers today … I’m ok with this.

Seven events. Four in 48 then three in 36 these past six days. Just enough hours to do all the normal prep and clean up required taking into consideration all the business shopping and bill paying necessary to keep that part of life up-to-date.

The other part? Personal concerns. There didn’t seem to be hours, let alone minutes, to use … However, I made it. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Didn’t plan on the pieces of the other part separating at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning – a reverse puzzler, as it turned out. A nice picture minutes before fell apart before my eyes lasting into the late evening Thursday. Days and nights with little sleep – while maintaining a busy schedule – weren’t helpful.

I wasn’t in crisis, but someone else was. Nurses, an occasional doctor, emergency and hospital rooms, medicine, pain, tears, texts, calls, needles, beeps, beds, consults, fears, and anxieties … a not-so inclusive list of every hour mindful minefields of groping gadgets I wanted to share with the soul in crisis. With those came an exhaustive search for extra time and energy that never came. Somehow, I’m here. It’s Friday.

Yea, looking back I feel something was accomplished. In the middle of it all? Not so much. Getting the necessary things done didn’t allow for the successes I wasn’t sure to look for, anyway. It was, and is, a complicated thing … this cancer issue. “Helping” is not just a physical do-this I’ve come to understand … it’s a much bigger crisis to manage.

I feel rewarded by a simple, “thank-you”, graced upon me, but not by those two words. It was an eight-word phrase she may, or may not, remember saying. The words don’t matter to anyone else except me. I’m glad to have them in my memory as a reminder of why it was so important to act upon a 5 a.m. reverse puzzler expecting nothing in return.

The reason I didn’t include a picture is because there’s no image of pain close to what I saw. That’s just me, of course.

Until life decides to spread out the crisis/business/personal jam ups in a more tolerable manner, I suspect there will be indigestible, short, three day stretches again. Every time will be epic battles of wit vs. will and willingness vs. availability. Somehow, I’ll be there, too.

… And I’m glad I had some time to type today. With nothing epic to write about and everything to say, this much-less-than famous author is glad to simply have a day off to enjoy himself.

Somehow, I made it. TGIF.

Snuggling Buicks

Mark-56 was first. Slowly, Ms. Red snuggled in beside to Mark’s left. I saw this romantic gesture through a late dinner’s window pane at Denny’s tonight around 9:45 p.m. and had to investigate.

Starting with a, “What are these cars?”, text to a good friend, I waited for a reply. An answer didn’t come back quick enough, so I flexed my inquisitive muscles by accelerating out of a yet-to-be-tabled salmon order booth. I walked through a sparsely occupied Friday night eatery on my way out to introduce myself.

These two didn’t need an escort – especially one who thought moments ago only Sir Ford and Miss Chrysler were out for an evening stroll. Apparently, Mr. Piano Guy here has limited knowledge of classic cars manufactured in ’56. Peering through glass – while waiting for what turned out to be a less-than-stellar trio of fish, potatoes, and broccoli – isn’t an exact science. That said, I bet most late night beholders of parking space beauty would have guessed, “Buick”.

“Nice wheels”, finally. Yes, I agree. Feedback from my friend was certainly appreciated after a few minutes. Sure, they are nice. Old, possibly restored autos were really cool to look at under the lights of a lit, clear evening parking lot; However, at that moment, I was less interested in bling-bling appearances than the actual make & model of these two late evening embracers.

“Nice to see you…”, I mumbled under my exhausted breath while asking permission to take the picture above. It was ten minutes prior I slunk into a booth after working a concert event: four-and-a half hours of busy, hot, sometimes confusing “sammie” making where the customer decision process can challenge even the most patient of souls. A once friendly, but suddenly cantankerous, canopy caused fifteen minutes of delay due to its inability to snap open one of four legs. In the midst of this colorful language episode – and no indication of a condiment, napkin, or steam droplet from any pan – an hombe with no wits about him walked up and asked, “Hey, you open yet?”…

Ok, so I was asking two beautiful cars a question they couldn’t answer. In retrospect, the guy, hours before, asked me that question I’m convinced he really didn’t want me to reply with words I desperately wanted to say. Who looks at a frustrated vendor – clearly wrestling with a large white vinyl piece of crap while a van sits full of supplies and a cart as cold as ice – and thinks, “I should ask, 45 minutes before the concert is scheduled to start, if I can get a hot sandwich. Looks like this guy is up and running … even though half his body is up in that canopy’s face.”??

“Why, yes, Sir … May I help you? …”, were seven words not coming clearly into my mind. I struggled as much with staying silent as trying to get the little clip-nib to come out on the leg that wasn’t working on the canopy. By the time an appropriate reply, “I open at six!!!”, was about to free-flow from my overly heated body, he moved on. A moment of relief. Fortunately … because I don’t like to get upset with potential customers, but … really? C’mon, my friend.

I had a few seconds to take a deep breath and truly say, “Hello.”… Mark and his lady friend had no idea of my troubles earlier. How could they? During my time of duress, they were out cruising about town, perhaps together … possibly apart … although considering the graceful manner in which they arrived suggested to me a familiarity in their travels.

It’s what fascinated my attention from the start.

I looked out over a weakly-iced tea to see Mark slowly enter his space. Gently he arrived. Careful in his approach, yet eager to arrive. I don’t know why I was so happy when, a minute later, Ms. Red snuggled in beside and took her place. It was almost like the two of them were meant to be together … at that time, in those two spaces – beside one another. One, then two, but still one.

They were a couple out on the town content to just be together. No frills, no extra fluff. Being in their space was perfectly fine for their life. I swear her back right tire was nudging over against his back left as if to say, “We can be here now … just us. No worries.”. My hectic, frustrating moments passed as I watched her tenderly pull in beside her man. This paused my soul.

Yeah, I know … just cars. Just – as it turned out – Buicks, not Fords or Chryslers. To a guy sipping a three-cube iced tea waiting on what eventually was a disappointing salmon dinner, two beautiful cars in his line of sight, and a bit of imagination, finished off an aggravating day in a lovely way.

I don’t know. Could have been the heat or the hunger that caused this reflection through the pane of glass? Sorry, Denny’s, but your salmon dinner didn’t make the hunger go away … and the heat? Well, that has since cooled off under my skin since Brian – a wonderful foodie friend – fixed the canopy (for now) and I’m off for a double-event day.

I sure hope Mark-56 and his Lady of Red had a wonderful rest of the evening together. I can’t thank them enough for giving me a few moments of happiness last night. They were snuggly beautiful together and I’m so fortunate they understood my exhaustion when I asked, “May I interrupt and take your picture?”

“Why, yes. Yes you can. We’re just here enjoying the evening together. It’s such a nice night. Don’t worry about anything. There’s a safe space for you anytime you need one. Just look out any window and remember: take life as it comes – gently drive your soul and, most of all … remember someone special will always love you and be by your side no matter what.”.


Beneath an Orange Sky

Photo Courtesy of Kim C.

It wasn’t mine, although I’d like to stand on a wooden fence and dream that dream beneath an orange sky. Opportunities to do this are not in my life as they are for Abby, the reflective little bit of dressed evening sunshine standing on the bottom rail. Her mom, a piano student of mine, started gracing the keys at an age not much older than Abby. I do remember those early lessons … years ago. Dreams were probably different back then – for both teacher and student.

I suspect 88 black and white keys, Mozart, or major scales were not in Abby’s mind as she looked past the nearest post to her right. Appropriately, everything was impeccably right in her childlike world at that moment. I do believe children see good in all things down the road, undoubtedly similar to this inquisitive fence rail-stander who saw imagination driving by.

Adult hopes don’t rest on curvey, worn wooden thick planks stretching between posts solidly pounded into the ground. Our dreams wiz quickly past the opportunities to stop and admire the sunsets and sunrises. We swiftly move from task to completion, from goal to success. The Abbys beside the road on which we travel see us, but fade away as blurs in our accelerating rear view mirrors. It is the way we adult under an unrecognized, unseen orange sky.

Adult hopes always appear to be around the next corner. The next chapter. The next person. The next job. The now is never enough. The sunset right before our eyes – the fence upon which to stand – we never see as a child sees: an opportunity to dream. As Kim so aptly bookended her words, a chance to live the music in our lives as well.

Granted, kiddos don’t have the stress of bills, home repairs, and pet problems (to list three out of a possible thousand or more). Arm resting off the top rail during an amazing sunset is easier if all you need to think about is your next play date with other happy-go-lucky-ers. In Abby’s miniature state of affairs, she has, now, two younger siblings to love and care for, many dear friends, … and this family follower who, virtually, still has fantastic memories of her mom, uncle, aunt, grandma, and “Pop-pop”. Wonderful people all. Those nows in my life at that time will never be lost.

As for Abby above, that was a now moment. Everything must have been right for her. We will never know her thoughts or dreams as she barely balanced her little feet on the splintered rail. Snapshots in time like that are for her dreams, but we are able to find small, colorful hopes inside a child who took a few minutes to watch imagination drive by.

Maybe all we need to do is stop and exit our busy lives for a short while, join the Abbys of the innocent world who stand on fences, and look for amazing, orange sunsets. If enough of us do this, fences may not be adequate as dreams become too big to hold back. Those we will recognize. Unrestrained, creative ideas – free to expand without “never enough”, around the corner, expectations – are real adult dreams born from child-like imaginations.

As these words fall, Abby is on her way elsewhere. I believe mom and daughter are making costumes if FB is up-to-date. I’m so glad these still moments are available to me. If I am allowed to be my slightly sarcastic self for a second? Too bad Abby isn’t very photogenic, right? Oh, and mom is pretty shy about posting “a few” pics here and there …😉 Wonderful. So delightful it is for me to write about this young lady.

With that, find an Abby moment in your life somewhere … a fence, a now moment. Slow down. We’re all so freakin’ busy anymore. Down the road, around the corner, may not be so far away and time gets shorter with every second that’s wasted. Lean on a rail and watch for splinters.

I’m sure Abby would love the company.

Don’t Mind My Busy Body

Certainly was a different time. Decades ago, to be frank. That very tree is gone, the uncomfortable sneaks and entire outfit were standard early 80’s, and those shades I remember well. This wasn’t a senior picture portfolio shoot or young men’s magazine ad modeling submission (thank heavens 😉). It’s just a young me standing beside a tree … doing absolutely nothing.

… And I honestly believe it was the last time I did that.

Somehow I learned how to be busy all the time soon after this picture was taken. A skill lasting well into my 6th decade of life. A wonderful journey, of course, since then. Up, down, and every plausible direction in between has been a bucket of moments spilling over into channels of lifelong memories. Being busy, active, and engaged in life – with people, especially – is a certain, special kind of constant immersion I’m glad life has afforded me.

There was the loss of loved ones, disappointment and happiness, financial want and success, sickness and healing, learning, rejection … all at the hands of others – and I would not exchange one second for something different. Out of each experience came a better me, if necessary. If not, I remained active in educating myself: understanding the “why” as I’ve written about previously.

“Why” is important to me. Yeah, probably just to me, but this keeps my mind busy. To a fault, I need to understand the “why” behind a lot of crazy that stirs in my busy stew pot even today. Folks make decisions that indirectly, or directly, make my life go, “Huh?”, and I ask myself, “Why you do that?” as they merrily go on their way giving it no second thought. I busily stew unnecessarily. It is an acquired skill. Ruminating over their ruthlessness is still worthwhile, in my opinion, because stress is released into the universe. In addition, weight is lost pacing endlessly back and forth over well-worn tread marks in the carpet.

Tonight, I had such a moment. The end of my evening event presented a “why” moment as a conversation went nowhere. Three explanations hit a brick wall. I couldn’t get my point across to save all the mustard left in China’s largest squeeze bottle. She just didn’t hear my words and listen to what I was saying. So frustrating. Why? Why did she make the decision earlier that affected my business so negatively? Why didn’t she understand my possible remedy for the future? Why did I walk away feeling disrespected?

People are still people. I’m no different, but I do know what I know. Nice is nice. Mistakes happen. I’m busy seemingly all the time and make goof-ups appear normal. I get it. Understanding others’ motivations or reasons for what they do, however, scrambles my brain – keeping me really busy all the freakin’ time.

All the time educating myself on how to better handle these situations.

It will be my “busy” for however many decades I have left on this spinning large blue, weird-shaped ball. I’ll never completely understand why people do what they do. I have a sense that I’m not supposed to, either. In the end, what would be the point of it, anyway? The process of learning how to better cope with frustration and disappointment? Maybe. The “whys?” are almost always associated with downslopes and dismays, so …🤔

Being busy, active, and engaged with people, like I wrote, is my thing – my lifeline to experiences I need to have. With those come the inevitable breakdowns that force the “whys” into existence. Yeah, sure … sometimes even “Why me?” jumps out of the pot and I don’t have an an answer from me to me. Go figure.

It’s all good, though. I don’t want to go back to the early 80’s. I want my hair and health back from those days, however, and possibly the cool shades. I also want my mom back who took the picture.

All of those are not possible, of course. Time doesn’t return. It moves forward … constantly reminding us of our limited time to grow, learn, and experience all we can.

I should start asking “why?” to learn about the virtuous surrounding me. Focusing on “why is there so much good in the world?” may be a better use of my busy mind than pressing more carpet flatly into the floor. Understanding that people are just people and do their people-thing up to their current ability may be the best path forward. Experiencing the experience of a life lived while doing absolutely nothing would be wonderful to revisit once again.

Probably with a more comfortable pair of sneakers this time.

Table 31 to Tea

A very pleasant Sunday morning. A day shy in the “thirty-days hath September ….” monthly memory click so solidly emblazoned in my mind. This sixth month has thirty days, so that silver “31” handed to me after ordering a crepe must have meant something else. Was I simply the 31st patron/group of the morn to enter? Possibly. Close to 11 a.m. during a rather congenial weather day, thirty other like-minded Blair Countians could have considered the same culinary treat.

I was left alone to contemplate the possibilities. It’s what I do. A mere few solitary feet removed from under the shingle, I sat. Alone.

I sat alone, but wasn’t a solitary soul. Every few minutes, passers-by waved a gracious, “Hello”, with words or a pleasant smile. One was careful to comment, “We used to read newspapers instead of those things.”, as I casually checked my email or strained my already wonky nape to read Facebook posts. Recent high school grads streamed in and out … celebrating their new found freedom from adolescence into adulthood responsibilities and summer transitions into college, military service, or the work-a-day world.

This Creamery is a busy whereabouts most nice days. They have a back outside seating area full of lush, shaded areas in which to sit comfortably among the cool breezes and an inside, upstairs lofty room above the main first floor. Organized, well-oiled, patterned ordering presents itself as one walks through the once old, converted shoe repair store doors. Charming, elite among most buildings in my hometown is this recessed, chandeliered entrance. Kirk and Heather, the owners, have done a corkingly great job over the years maintaining and upgrading this business to include alcohol and a niche menu that draws in clientele year after year.

My “Allegheny Crepe” arrived just in time. The tea – resplendent with one artificial sweetener and one regular sugar – absorbed the sun’s reflection perfectly for the picture moments before. My only regret wasn’t the disappearing kindness of the server who gently asked if there was anything else I needed. It was his necessary removal of the silver “31” I had come to reflect upon during the moments of peaceful semi-privacy. He said, “You won’t regret it.”, when placing my menu choice in front of me. Perhaps it meant nothing? With no one within my emotional purview who would understand my task at hand, I was left with an expectedly delicious crepe in front of me, a perfectly mixed iced tea, one perfectly sunny day … and my thoughts.

January, March, May, July, August, October, and December all have 31 days. This repeated over and over in my brain because of the “Thirty-days …” traditional verse mnemonic. Too pedantic to hold great appeal for the purposes of my imagination. What, possibly, could the universe be telling me through seven months of thirty-one days? I pondered an extension of this as 7×31 = 217. Could 217 be significant in any way? Nah. Again, too blah … even for a numbers goober like me.

Why “31” … if anything at all? For all I knew, this was eventually going to be an exercise in futility. Part way through what WAS a succulent crepe, I looked around for other subjects about which to write. There happened to be a quite fascinating crack in the sidewalk below catching my fancy. Additionally, down the street a few blocks, my friend, Joel, is in the final stages of a fantastic large sculpture I could have considered. People walking by were interesting in their comments as well. Many other fascinations were available, but none as intriguing as darn “31”…

Then, as I placed my fork’s final rest on the edge of the plate, my satisfied appetite leaned back into the iron back of the chair. I closed my eyes facing toward the sunlight flickering through the twittering leaves dangling on two trees partnering with me across the sidewalk. Shaking my head slightly in agreement with my thought, it dawned on me.

I was married in 1990. Thirty-one years ago almost to the day of this post. June 9th, 1990. I am to realize the marriage part of my relationship with my wife will soon be over. We are amicably parting ways. Great friends to the end, we are.

The significance of “31” cannot – and will not – be understated. Sometimes, things such as marriages, run their course and two adults must make that very difficult decision to move on. There is no room for bitterness, strife, anger, disappointment, frustration, or indignation. Yes, there is sadness … of course there is unhappiness. Over half of our years on this earth have been together – experiences together we cannot undo or want to forget. Both of us, if normal life expectancies are in our futures, have the remaining third of our span to live out as we want to … apart from each other. It will wonderfully accommodate new experiences for our individual selves.

My future is bright, to use an overly-used phrase. Your future is, too. Whatever is going on at your table outside one of your favorite restaurants during a beautiful everyday sitting, use it to see whatever you need to see. Find that number to learn more about yourself, a person to talk with over tea, or simply a tree to look through. There are answers somewhere. It may take years – maybe three decades or so – to find what you really need, but hang in there.

I finished a crepe, a tea, and a conversation inside my head. Walking away, I knew that silver “31” served me well just as the fine young man promised when he removed it from my presence. He was right. However, it wasn’t my sadness of its removal. Nor was it his insistence that I wouldn’t regret my lunch option. Sure, the fold-over prosciutto ham and cheese choice was flavorful, but moments after it was finished, sitting alone, … a tired, yet satisfied man in his 50’s – remembering 31 years – doesn’t regret any of it. Choices were made based upon information at the time and I have no time left to be resentful of anything.

Life is certainly a process. A never-ending procedure of mistakes and fixer-uppers. I am forever grateful to live day-to-day … experiencing all it has to offer.

Table 31 to a Tea. Here’s to silver “31”s in your life that may pop up … and may you walk away with no regrets.


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.

Toby Full of Heart

I like my personal, peaceful sits. Ya know, those times when breezes and people pass by without relinquishing their troubles … asking me to understand something I care not to appreciate at the moment. My sedentary self on a comfortable chair, outside any coffee shop or bistro, furnishes me breaths I cannot get inhaling busy air while going about daily congestions. Yesterday. Business passing by in which I didn’t need to be involved. Human interactions less interested in the iced green tea placed just within my reach than what was waiting inside. Nearly perfect as the early afternoon sun’s shade crept across a marginally wobbly iron table. A nice breathing space shared by all – a table, a deserving man, the slight early summer breeze, and Toby … a little guy who teaches all of us ToBe full of heart.

He was a little fretful an hour before this picture was taken. Can’t say I blame him. The “experienced” ladies in charge of his care appeared to be concerned about everything swirling around the outdoor patio. They were sweet … don’t misunderstand my words. Toby did the best he could to slowly find his way around the unfamiliar maze of sixteen metal legs and four familiar human legs. The older countesses of this blog did come across their happy breezes as well on the upper side of their table as Toby twirled beneath. I suspect this was the situation even before I walked by to enter Panera Bread. Loved for sure, he is. I’m sure.

Loved for years. Toby isn’t young. Cataracts kept him from moving too fast. Casual glances in his direction between my sips of tea didn’t appear to make him move much. Either his interest in my interaction was “meh”, or he couldn’t see me. I’m so inclined to believe the latter is true. I need to wonder this … Yes, unconnected “peaceful sit” time is valuable, but being tossed off by an aging canine can sting a bit.

In between Toby times, there were times ToBe absorbed in heartfelt thoughts. Just passing by, they were. Not completely soaking in all of my time, but here and there. Too many deep, pensive notions in a row – in combination with the near perfect weather – would have slunk my body into a three-hour Sunday trance the likes from which no “Flavorful & Craveable” smelling salt could bring me back. Maybe a flaky, chocolate croissant? … mmm, possible.

I considered how busy we can be. This isn’t new to any of us, is it? The cars pulled in and out … customers came and went carrying their orders. Smiles – I think were genuine, but I am not one to judge. Most, if not all, who sat as my concrete companions under the strip mall roof entertained their afternoons with phones in one hand. Expected busyness in 2021. Even I checked my friendly messages once in a while. It is what we do. We want to stay engaged in something – connected to busyness – even when really easy early summer breezes offer us time to get away from all of it.

I considered how difficult big changes can be. When casually over-the-shoulder spying on the gentlewomen of the Panera patio, I had to wonder how many changes have taken place during their, assumed, nine-ish decades of life. Clearly in their late 70’s, possibly 80’s, they laughed through conversations I couldn’t clearly make out (and, for the record, wasn’t trying). Were these the same friendly laughs carrying them through the deaths of spouses? Sisters loving each other once again as they did when loving parents passed into energy eternal? Are salads and sandwiches the daily connections they need to small-bite the large change pains that are still sitting in their lives?

I considered how wonderful friends can be. I’ve said this before and will continue to say it. Quite straightforward is this safety net of comfort, support, and advice. When we are too busy and going through a major change in our life, friends support us. They tell us what we need to hear – even if the advice is not exactly framed with words pleasing to our ears.

While all of this circled around the table and the inside of my cup became more melted ice than tea, Toby appeared from under his lunchtime abode. What emerged in plain view was the heart on his coat. I couldn’t resist the notion to believe his heart was more than black on white in front of my eyes.

Only after considering what’s truly important in life, does one’s heart appear. I didn’t see it as he slowly scurried about earlier. It was seen only when I was ready to see it. Toby’s heart is inside his aged little body, too. He can’t see very well. He can’t move fast. Chances are good – if I ask the nice ladies – there would be other ailments he has. In his frailty, however, he reminds us there’s goodness all of us can see in our change and busyness.

Life isn’t easy. I guess that’s the point here. It’s a lot nicer for me when I can have my personal, peaceful “sits”. When hearts are wonderfully placed in my life – unexpectedly – I must ask, “Toby, or not to be?”, …then take that comfortable path to a small hamlet where coffee shops and bistros exist as breezy escapes. To be full of heart is the only way forward – inside and out. It’s tough, but as long as friends have our back, we don’t have to see everything clearly.

If this is good enough for Toby, it’s good enough for me. Glad to have a new friend.