Glasgow, Scotland: September 2019

Photo Glasgow 1

Glasgow is Gaelic for dear, green place. I open the plane shade as we are about to land and gasp. The craggy mountains are a splendid backdrop for the verdant patches that sparkle. JC* and I take one look at each other, smile, break into song with a quiet rendition of “Loch Lomond,” that old Scottish ballad, and receive a thumbs-up from Mr. Wiz*, while the family across the aisle claps softly:

“…You take the high road
And I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland before you
For me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond…”

We head to our hotel, excited to meet up with Big A*. The Fodors review was so complimentary that before booking the Carlton George, I checked to make sure that the reviewer’s last name wasn’t Carlton or George. All in all, it was a nice hotel in a great location, nothing exceptional. Due to the recent liquor issues in hotels, the complimentary decanters of gin, sherry and whiskey in our rooms go unopened, but the rooftop bar is a nice touch.

If Glasgow were a shoe, it would be a practical oxford in a daring color. What the city lacks in beauty, it makes up for with its edgy vibe. And then, there’s that sense of humor: someone has placed traffic cones on the heads of the elegant statues all around the city, a sign reads “…There are two seasons in Scotland: June and Winter…” and a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad asks “…What the cluck?..” I’m still giggling when we walk through a tunnel and painted on the wall it says “… Are ye dancing?..” and we pass Sweaty Betty, a women’s fitness apparel shop.

We explore Argyll Street, City Center, the West End and Glasgow Cathedral. Glasgow University enchants us; it’s very Hogwarts-like and we search for Harry Potter around every corner. We arrive just in time for an organ recital at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and then learn about some of Scotland’s famous artists in a special exhibit.

We’re treated to a lovely view of the city at Citation, as we enjoy cocktails on its outdoor balcony. Even though we’re lucky to get the last table in the cobblestone courtyard at Sloan’s, a bar dating back to 1799, I make sure to check out its acid etched windows and mahogany staircase inside. We were so glad the hotel staff told us to check out the bar next door. We’d never seen anything like Waxy O’ Connors Pub. The waiter tells us that its design was the creation of the owner. We can’t imagine how he thought to combine six bars, multiple landings and nook and crannies over three floors in a gothic style that resembles a church and how the wait staff finds their way back to their customers.

Each morning at breakfast, we settle on our lunch choices. Catch wins us over with its luscious fish and chips and its navy and white nautical décor. Paesano impresses us by elevating pizza into an art form, its menu detailing how each imported ingredient was chosen and enlightening us about its wood fire oven, perfected over four generations.

Our culinary priorities set, by lunch time, we secure our dinner reservations, not wanting to miss out on any of the choices we’ve spent time researching. After dining at the Mussel Inn, we agree that, though delicious, we may have reached our mussel quota for the balance of the trip. Rogano’s elegant art deco décor sets the stage for their smoked fish chowder and lemon sole drenched in a brown butter sauce that I could have bathed in. The waiter tells us that we’re in good company (Henry Kissinger, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart have also dined at table 16) and he will be sure to add the Thornton family to the list.

Now it’s on to Edinburgh! We head to the train, secure in the knowledge that we’ve successfully made the best of our short stay.

Photo Glasgow 2

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
I would greatly appreciate your input; if you enjoyed this post, please scroll down and like it!

 

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The Tale of the Sales Pitch

Photo Tale of a Sales Pitch


House rule: we always open every piece of mail. Remembering Mr. Wiz’s* astonishment, a while back, in receiving a $300 rebate from his old insurance company, I recently ripped open both sides of an envelope that urged me to open it immediately.

We’ve all seen these invitations before; listen to a presentation in exchange for a gift of some sort. This one caught my eye, only because of the gift: two- round trip tickets to anywhere in the continental United States, a two-night stay at a top hotel and a $50 restaurant gift card.

Curious, I called the 800 number and was told that this travel agency promoted themselves via one-on-one presentations, rather than utilizing other forms of advertising.

With a background in sales, I was intrigued to see how these experts might elevate their craft to an art form. The two airline tickets and the fact that the presentation was in a classy downtown hotel made me decide to reserve a space.

We arrived early and greeted the woman sitting outside the conference room. Wondering how she could possibly be so irritated at such an early hour, she looked up, handed us a clip board and told us to fill out the information without acknowledging us at all. I named her Ms. Morose (aka Ms. M).

The doors opened and we were ushered in, along with two elderly couples. The body language of the two gentlemen accompanying their wives conveyed immediately that they were coerced into attending. Personally, I would have removed the two tables that sat in the back empty.

Before we had a chance to chat with our neighbors, the master of ceremonies leaped into the room and introduced himself. Because of his Hawaiian shirt, perpetual smile and game show host voice, I gave him the title Mr. Carnival Barker (aka Mr. CB). In between photos of exotic destinations, we were told that joining this members-only travel agency (brokers that cut out the middlemen) would discount our travel by at least 50%.

We were then introduced to our personal consultant (Ms. M and Mr. CB turned out to be the other consultants). A large black man with a sweet face, he shook our hands and joked that, by his accent, we could probably guess that he was from Alabama. He later mentioned that he was actually was from Senegal. Having to repeat his introduction three times before we understood him, we settled in at the edge of our seats and politely tried to focus intently on every word that Mr. Senegal, my name for him (aka Mr. S) had to say.

It seemed that Mr. S. was also the closer. With a broad smile, he assured us that the $3995 we would spend, along with the $199 per year was a small price to pay for the deep discounts offered us.

By the time we looked up, the two grouchy husbands and their spouses were nowhere to be seen. It was time for Mr. S. to throw in the discounts and specials that he had been hiding in his back pocket. Though he mentioned more than once that the offer expired once we exited the room, we were unsure why he wrote his name and cell number down for us.

We declined the offer and said our goodbyes, still wondering, if this was their one shot at a sale, why the staff was not as professional as expected and not dressed for success. Exiting the room and walking down the hall, I heard Ms. M. call me back to her desk. As I returned, she said in her monotone voice “…I’ll need that pad back…” Mini paper hoarder that I am, I had put the white lined 8 x 11 inch pad under my arm.

All in all, I learned a lot that day: first impressions are important, never make a big decision before sleeping on it, if it seems too good to be true it probably is and the secret to success for multimillion dollar companies is keeping an eye on those 25 cent pads.

Postscript: The coupon for the airline tickets, hotel stay and dining did arrive along with a request for credit card information to cover taxes and fees totaling $450. I figure I still came out ahead; I made scrap paper out of the coupon, still have the Sheraton Hotel pen and got the idea for this post.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Welcome to Randyland!

Photo Randyland 1

The real Randy or a cardboard cutout? I’m still not sure.

Randy Gilson prides himself on celebrating the insignificant. Little did he know that when he purchased a dilapidated house in Pittsburgh for $10,000 at an auction back in 1995, it would become known as one of America’s most colorful public landmarks and among the most photographed places on Instagram.

Growing up in a broken home, poor and sometimes homeless, he ignored the taunting of others and focused on working to create something out of nothing, both with his life and with his surroundings. Randy says that his struggles became his strengths; “…I taught myself to repurpose, reuse and recycle…” As a young boy, he would rummage through the trash and recondition toys he found, to the delight of his five siblings at Christmas.

He’d love to sneak over to the yards of his elderly neighbors and mow their overgrown lawns. Distressed by the garbage and abandoned homes in his neighborhood, he later started the Old Allegheny Garden Society. He purchased whiskey barrels, filled them with flowers and placed them along the streets. Neighbors started volunteering to assist him and his dream of creating a peoplehood (his term for connecting people together for a common goal) took shape. Over time, 800 barrels, 50 vegetable gardens and eight parks spruced up the area.

He gave his newly purchased, ramshackle house the “Randy touch,” gathering bricks from homes in the area being torn down and believing in their energy, each with a story of the lives they housed. He lovingly positioned his collections of recycled objects around the yard and invited passersby to come in, chat and peruse at no charge.

Today, Randyland is a whimsical expression of pure joy. Colorful murals line the walls of the outdoor art space. The psychedelic staircase leads to nowhere and is decorated with bright colored metal chairs seemingly suspended in air. Mannequin heads sit on a table next to a pile of sand and toys. The worry box provides pen and paper and invites you to write down your concerns, then drop them in the box. Souvenirs are displayed on the honor system, requesting the purchaser to place the money in a nearby lock box. Seating areas welcome all to stay awhile, take in the assemblage of oddities that encircle them and read the uplifting visitor comments left on the bulletin board from all over the world.

Photo Randyland 4

I’m guessing the telephone is for emergency situations?

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, my visit to Randyland was an eye-opening experience of wonder and delight. My love of anything quirky and my awe and reverence for anyone a bit eccentric merged into a feeling of pure bliss. As I left that haven of happiness, I had a big smile on my face and a spring in my step, hoping never to forget how one man had the ability to turn waste into wonder.

Photo Randyland 5

 

 

 

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

 

Photo Say What You Mean

All she said was to make it a big anniversary celebration. All he heard was pig anniversary celebration. Hence, a suite at the Pig Palace, famous for Swine and Wine Night.

It only takes one gift of a toaster on your birthday or anniversary to get your attention. Why do we always assume that people know what we want, think or feel? Why do we shy away from saying exactly what we mean?

According to Psychology Today, most people tend to shrink from conflict and tolerate its consequences. Assertiveness need not be confused with aggressiveness. Addressing a situation sooner, rather than later, clears the air while it is still fresh in our minds. Letting someone know how their behavior impacted us can be accomplished openly and honestly without harboring any animosity. Saying something as simple as “…You hurt my feelings…” can begin a dialogue that hopefully leads to shared insights.

Think of how many misunderstandings could have been sorted out with a bit of discussion and how much ill will could have been prevented. Wouldn’t you rather have family and friends be aware of your honest feelings, rather than have you silently stewing over something that happened years ago?

Assumption is the cause of many a frustrating circumstance. Take the case of the innocent shopping list. Grateful that her husband agreed to do the grocery shopping, the methodical wife made a detailed list for him. Numbering each item, she realized on his return that he thought those numbers referred to the number of items he was to purchase. As they unloaded one bag of sugar, two bags of potatoes all the way up to 20 bags of dog food from their trunk, the conversation escalated into an argument, later the humorous anecdote shared at cocktail parties.

With a little information from Psychology Today, we could try honing our listening skills. As an active listener, we would seek to understand by questioning until we have that “ah-hah” moment. A reflective listener strives to clarify what they’ve heard. Either way, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly what your spouse’s expectations are on a special occasion, what a pal’s meaning of friendship really is and what your boss’s comment about reaching your potential meant?

Following my own advice on behavioral styles, I decided to immediately confront Mr. Wiz* and Big A* on that fateful birthday I received the toaster. As they sat across from me, with expressions that mimicked a deer in headlights, I explained my disappointment. Waiting for a reply, they both suggested that I first look inside the toaster slots. Feeling particularly crumby, I had no choice, at that point, but to hug them dearly, the spa gift certificate still in my hand.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

Language Lost

Photo Lost Language

My hairdresser looked at me quizzically. She didn’t know what dungarees were. When I pointed out they were the pants she was wearing, she nodded and said “…Oh, you mean jeans…” It made me wonder how many perfectly good words in our vocabulary have been left to languish and finally vanish over time.

As jeans stylishly faded, so did dungarees. Dungarees were named after the thick, cotton cloth exported from India to England during British colonial times. Jeans borrowed its name from Genoa, Italy a more recent source of cloth. Wearing jeans evokes sipping a cappuccino at a café in high heels with legs crossed. Dungarees conjures up sweating while shoveling manure in the barn.

The dicky (also spelled dickie or dickey) began as a shirt front worn with a tux in the early 1900s and by the late 1900s transformed into a turtleneck sweater without the sweater. The over the head addition to any wardrobe created less bulk, both on the wearer and in his closet. Thought to be a classic fashion trend, you would be hard pressed to find even one Dicky of the Month club nowadays.

No one is sure how calf length trousers got their start or their name back in the 1950s. Rumor has it that no designer wanted their name associated with these pants that all of a sudden stopped midstream down your leg. Whether you called them pedal pushers or clam diggers, the short pants or long shorts just didn’t make the cut.

Culinary terms can also evaporate. The Jell-O salad jiggled its way onto everyone’s table until sneaky cooks started hiding yesterday’s leftovers in it. Fondue warmed our hearts until double dippers gave us concern for germs.

The biggest disappointment to me, personally, is the disappearance of Pig Latin. An easy to understand, made up language, it served its rightful purpose whenever speaking in code became necessary. No apps, language classes or tutors necessary; just transfer the first letter of a word to the end and add the suffix “ay.” Any boar can say “…Let’s meet at seven…,” but state it as “…Etslay eetmay taay evensay..” and you will really hog the conversation.

There’s no one stopping us from adopting a few of our favorite extinct words and casually dropping them into a sentence or two during the course of the day. Who knows? This could start a new trend of vintage vocabulary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Consistency Repeats Itself      

Photo Consistency

When I think back to when Big A* was a child, I remember that our daily routines had as much of a positive effect on me as they did him. Swimming classes in a hotel pool meant snacking on the free samples from its restaurant afterward. Naptime and bedtime each had their own protocols complete with talking stuffed animals. After making homemade pasta and cleaning up together, we would play the “Puccini and Pasta” CD, just in time for Mr. Wiz’s* arrival home. At an early age, Big A reasoned that if he remembered his manners, he would be invited along with us, rather than stay at home with a baby sitter. As he matured, he understood the consequences of unacceptable behavior.

Children thrive in a structured existence. They are happier and confident when they know what’s expected. According to verywellfamily.com, it provides limits, helps them organize and integrate information into their brains and gives them an understanding as to how the world works. Consistency provides a clear set of boundaries, helps them make better choices, understand responsibility and empowers them to respond positively.

If this makes a child a better person, why wouldn’t it make an adult a better person too? Actually, a routine is anything but mundane. Sometimes you just revel in the repetitiveness that makes you feel warm and cozy.

Once my alarm sounds each morning, it’s time for the weather report. I announce the temperatures in the cities where our families live to Mr. Wiz as a way of starting the day thinking about them all. Then, it’s time for a cup of tea, some quiet time and soon I’m locked away, writing. Dentist and doctor appointments are always rewarded by treating myself to something special. Music choreographs my chores.

The child in me is feeling more encouraged to flourish in the lovely repetitiveness of life that is anything but monotonous. Next, I’ll work on some new disciplinary tactics, giving myself a timeout and no second and third chances when I misbehave.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

Too Close for Comfort?

Photo Too Close Comfort

I settled into my seat, excitedly anticipating the start of the show. Munchkins and flying monkeys aside, “Wicked,” the back story to “The Wizard of Oz” would, hopefully, answer the questions I had about the good and wicked witches since I was a little girl. It wasn’t until the end of the performance that I realized that, had I sat back further, I would have appreciated the sets and costumes even more. Sometimes taking a step back is the smartest thing we can do.

Must we always be in the moment? Just as babies become overstimulated from too many sensations and experiences, we too get overwhelmed. Moving away from the issue at hand, taking a deep breath and giving ourselves time for contemplation can make all the difference in resetting our thoughts and feelings and rocking ourselves back to tranquility.

Whether we’re observing a still life in an art gallery or pondering if our life is still on track that one little backward movement gives us a bigger picture and a clearer view.

As it relates to our loved ones, seeing them up on an actual stage, experiencing an important stage of their lives with them or just watching them from afar, gives us a new perspective of who they really are.

Backing up, taking a look around us and appreciating how fortunate we are could do well to reverse those weighty thoughts into lighter feelings of gratitude.

So, let’s all remember that when things get a bit too close, all we need to do is give them a gentle nudge back to where they belong and realize that one step back is really one step forward in disguise.

Though no one can make a brand new start,
anyone can start from now
and make a brand new ending.

Carl Bard

 

Author’s note: Start watching for blog posts every other week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copycats; Imitating Nature

Photo Biomimicry

The answers have been there all along. According to its definition, biomimicry is an approach to innovation that utilizes proven strategies and designs that have already been adapted by nature. In other words, we are now learning from nature, rather than about nature.

The bumps on the flippers of the humpback whale help them to “grip” the water. This aerodynamic characteristic has been used in the design of wind turbines and is working to enhance the safety and performance of airplanes.

Modeling the front of a European hi-speed train after the beak of a kingfisher created a quieter ride and the use of 15 percent less electricity while the train traveled 10 percent faster.

Emulating a dolphin’s unique frequency capabilities, a high-performance underwater system has been developed as a tsunami warning system.

I happen to dabble in Biomimetics on the side. It doesn’t take long to discover that the natural world is chock full of concepts that are just begging to be adapted. In the course of my research, some stood out more than others. Calls to the Biomimicry Institute have gone unanswered, but I continue to persevere.

Make room, $2.5 billion dating market; here’s a new concept that will revolutionize the dating world. No more wondering if you should wait three days to call or if you talked too much at dinner; imitating the sage grouse mating rituals eliminates the stress and cuts to the chase. The male struts, fans his tail much like that of a peacock and makes a strange popping sound in order to attract a female mate; done! Call it the “Magic Mike” of the bird world, but I think there might be something to this.

The next time you shoo away ants, take the time to actually view a colony at work. Jobs are defined and assigned. Teamwork and organization are key. Persistence counteracts any obstacles and goals are met. No fancy business consultants are required to run this operation like a well-oiled machine. Instead of those expensive employee team building activities, I envision Ant 101; groups of employees out in a park, laying on the ground on their stomachs with iPads and laptops, documenting their tiny compadres’ remarkable achievements.

The bad news: a female polar bear gains 400 pounds during pregnancy. The good news: during delivery, she digs a maternity den in a snowdrift, hibernates for two months and actually sleeps through her pregnancy. Baby shower, dig, hibernate, baby, SlimFast for a year or two; call me crazy, but this just might beat out the new luxury birthing experiences being touted lately. I’m sure there are women out there that would trade a mani pedi for hibernation. Oh, and after two years, baby polar bears have been completely acclimated to their surroundings and are sent out on their own; no college bills and the longest empty nesting in history!

I now have a newfound respect for the environment. Each time I visit a zoo, hear a bird singing in a tree or watch a flower bloom, I’ll remember to slow down and wonder if we’ll all be mirroring them someday soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savor the Small

Photo Savor the Small

The older woman at the gym looked right at me as if she knew me and spoke. “…Seeing Rachel so clean made me so happy this morning. After we washed her last time we tried running over with the car to try to squeeze the water out…” I had intended to make a quick exit, but my curiosity got the better of me. “And, who’s Rachel?..” I asked. “…Oh, it’s the rug that our cat sleeps on. She loves it because it’s the same color as her mom, Rachel was, so we named it Rachel the Rug…” And with that, she bid me farewell, leaving me to scratch my head and smile, as I was reminded of how those small things in life can bring us such joy.

I started listening a bit more intently to those around me to see if I could pick up any of the delights in their lives. One friend said that, on entering the kitchen each morning, just the sight of the coffeepot, sugar bowl and the creamer waiting to be filled warms her. Another shared that he loves to sit on his porch and sing along to old cowboy songs. A comment I’d heard more than once was that sitting down with a good book was like welcoming back an old friend.

Every morning, I look forward to my first sip of hot tea and I enjoy the quiet that comes from locking myself in our study. After I get comfortable on the sofa, I gaze across the room at the bookshelf and look at each memento; a photo or an object that reminds me of some chapter of my life. I say a few prayers and try to meditate. Then, the laptop comes out and I begin writing. When I finally open those French doors to begin my day, I feel utterly refreshed.

These occurrences we’re personally experiencing each day, though miniature in size, have a way of counteracting the complex, fast-paced routines of our daily lives. It’s life’s balancing act, prompting us to ride the wave, but not to let it drown us.

The phone ringing and Big A’s* voice on the other end saying …”Hey there!..,” the way Mr. Wiz* interlocks my pinky with his on days when it’s just too warm out to hold hands, an old family photo album, cooking to the sound of a favorite song; these are the things I want to make sure I hold close. What are the tiny treasures in your life?

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

A Toast to My Dad

Photo FLC FD

After the first sip of their martini, the conversation was to begin. The plan was to meet my parents and announce that Mr. Wiz* and I had decided to move in together. Since my dad, of Latin descent, had never even grasped the concept of a children’s sleep over and that remained forbidden territory, it seemed only right to welcome cocktails into the discussion.

Mr. Wiz took a deep breath and, in his deep, professional voice, presented our strategy. He started off by letting his deep feelings for me be known. If we shared a household, we would then be able to lease a showroom for the business we owned together. Both having already been divorced, we would then take our time and let the relationship blossom.

The uncomfortable silence was broken when my dad slowly took a sip of his martini, looked Mr. Wiz straight in the eyes from across the table and said “…What?! How well do we know you? Let me tell you something; one call and I could have your legs broken. Do you understand what I’m saying?..”

After that, things got a bit fuzzy. I remember yelling “…Daddy!..,” jumping up from the table and heading to the ladies room with JC* following behind me. As she wiped away my tears, I remember JC explaining that when you were born in Hell’s Kitchen (a section of New York City whose ambiance needs no explanation), this was almost a prerequisite to a family welcome.

I calmed down and we both headed back to the table, not knowing what to expect. To my surprise, my dad and Mr. Wiz were leaning in toward each other, talking and laughing as if nothing had happened. That was the start of a beautiful relationship and to this day, what transpired during their secret meeting has never been divulged.

From humble beginnings and with little formal education, he had no choice but to put his head down and forge ahead, until each of his goals were accomplished. Once successful, his go big or go home attitude was tempered with his advice to always stay just a little under what you could afford.

When he would instill in me that I should do it right or not at all, I’m sure I’d roll my eyes and then begin again, methodically working toward an end goal that would make us both proud.

The first time he announced his belief that everyone is No. 1 after you, I thought it extremely selfish until I realized that, once again, he was right. Now, every time an airline instructs us to place our oxygen mask on first before assisting others, I can’t help but smile.

How many times since his passing have I wondered what he would’ve done in a similar situation. And, how many times have I known just what to do.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.