It’s raining leaves.

This post is a spin off of WordPress’ daily prompt Singin’ In the Rain.

Fall Leaves

I watch your eyes sparkle in wonder,
as heavenly colors float your way.
It’s raining leaves, I say.

Gently swaying in the breeze,
they dance like no one is watching
and slowly find a haven in your innocent presence.

Mystified by an autumn blessing,
I see your tiny hands – God’s creation,
reach toward the twinkling sky in delight, beckoning for more.

I’m dazzled and tickled by your giggles.
My heart smiles,
and my soul is enlightened with a sense of purpose.

In this moment of peaceful observance and mindful tranquility,
I am born again
and absolved of all my earthly sins.
I reflect how every wrong turn has led me to our moment.
It’s raining leaves, Hannah.

I am 1984.

This post is a spin off of WordPress’ daily prompt 1984 – you’re locked in a room with your greatest fear. Describe what’s in the room.

The year is 1984. I am a member of the Outer Party and spend my time in the Records Department as part of the Ministry of Truth, rewriting and distorting history to best serve my master. I work for Big Brother out of fear, not because I believe in His brainwashing tactics to direct human morals, values and freedoms. But I just can’t fight the system.

Cameras live among us, as conspicuous as the morning blue jay. Drones in the sky. Traffic monitoring. GPS tracking. Human chipping. And more. Oh, there’s so much more, all of which record daily routines in public and private places alike, right outside our homes and inside our bathrooms. A disapproving stare from the neighbor reminds me that if I step out of line, even once, Big Brother will know. No place is private. No place is safe. No place is home.

Peace, justice and acceptance have been replaced with order, tyranny and distrust. Freedom of individuality, speech and religion have vanished with my right to vote, protect my family and choose. Hunger, forced labor and the threat of mass execution control citizens. I’m held captive in a state of propaganda and political control.

I search for an outlet, a window of hope to mask despair. I begin to journal, an outward act of treason that’s punishable by torture or even death. Soon I am discovered by an underground Brotherhood that’s bravely fighting against our powerful political regime that rules with iron-clad groupthink dominance. After years of dedication to the cause, I discover the Brotherhood is nothing more than a sham, an underground human telemonitor reporting back to Big Brother base and exposing any plans of revolt.

Escape is impossible and conformity is inevitable. I am broken. I am 1984.

……………

1984-by-george-orwellSound familiar? Although exaggerated, it should. This daily prompt is meant to elicit discomfort and induce anger… even fear, the kind of uncomfortable response George Orwell desired from readers of 1984, Oceania and Animal Farm. A true literary genius, Orwell used his published works as a political pulpit to reveal the ugly truth about the concept of societal utopia, repression of the human spirit and the evanescence of identity. While 1984 was written post World War II with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as muses of destruction, many of the controversial platforms unveiled, examined and deemed unfit for the preservation of humanity are deeply rooted all around us, including societies that hide behind an illusion of democracy.

Government and religious fanatics rule by the hand of fear. Refugees seek freedom. Disease, poverty and violence rape our nations. Sexual orientation and gender rights are suppressed by church and state. Racism runs deeper than ever. There is a complete disregard, abuse, sexual exploitation and demoralization of women and children. Unrestrained hate, evil and terrorism turn friends, families, neighbors and entire communities against each other in civil and world war. Children are kidnapped from their villages, torn away from their families then brainwashed, trained and expected to carry out the duties of a child soldier.

Has societal evolution created a perfect storm for invasion of privacy and rights, the advancement of hate, complete control and inevitable demise?

Food Review: Shorty’s Diner, a Virginia Staple

Shorty'sIf God intended for there to be another food group, He would just call it Shorty’s Diner. No, you didn’t read the first line incorrectly and yes, I stated an entire diner’s breakfast menu should be honored with its own food pyramid category.

I pity the fool who eats merely to live, for there’s absolutely no enjoyment in sustenance alone and, in which case, Shorty’s wouldn’t be the establishment for you. I relish in a great breakfast experience and this spot delivers just that, a family owned and operated pig-out spot that features blog worthy family recipes.

Hide your calorie calculator and get ready to give your taste buds a treat. Simply put, it’s homemade “foodie” goodness wrapped in a pretty bow, a must-stop-and-eat-til-I-drop experience while in Williamsburg, VA. How good, you ask? Delicious enough that my husband and I ducked in for two consecutive days of breakfast. Now, it’s highly unusual for us to visit the same restaurant back-to-back, especially while traveling. There are so many tempting eateries within every neighborhood that it’s criminal not to try as many as possible but Shorty’s, oh Shorty’s, you were worth a sinful, diet breaking double dip.

Shorty's breakfast menuExpect friendly staff to dish out hearty homemade favorites served in extra large portions with a DEAL sticker for a price tag. It’s classic comfort food done right – close your eyes and smack your lips kinda good.

Taste Tested and Approved: Shorty’s Special, The Hangover Special, Corned Beef Hash, Sausage Biscuits and Gravy, Country Fried Steak, Pancakes, Bacon, Home Fries, Hashbrowns and Coffee.

5 Stars – The eggs were cooked exactly to order; sausage biscuits and gravy were gut-busting amazing and are worthy of a prisoner’s last meal … the biscuits, ohh those biscuits; pancakes were larger than the plate itself, light, fluffy and impossible to stop devouring; and homemade hashbrowns were done to golden brown deliciousness.

4 Stars – The country fried steak featured a well seasoned, light and crisp batter that was fried perfectly; the corned beef hash was right on point; and they served a good coffee that was piping hot.

3.7 Stars – The home fries were good, and obviously fresh cut, but lacked the flavor you expect when packing a homemade punch, especially since onions and peppers were included. In fairness, many restaurants hold the salt/seasoning so consumers can add at the table to reflect personal taste.

Shorty’s diner is an East Coast gem and local favorite, from its tasty menu to weekly Friday Night Cruz Thrus. It’s like Mama’s home cookin’… mmm, mmm, delicious.

4.5 Stars Overall

Coffee Talk

This is in response to Writing Wings for You, encouraging all folks to tap into their inner poet. The blog’s latest challenge is coffee talk.

I close my eyes and breathe in your aroma,
captivated by your allure.
Rich and bold,
I savor each ingredient’s scent and distinctive flavor.

There’s no rush,
for my angel is discovering the delight of dreaming.
Our possibilities are endless.

A cheap high,
you take me there.
Back to a first date,
an intellectual debate,
and a hangover cure.

Back to a morning perk in Latin America,
an afternoon espresso in Italy,
and road java in Dublin.

And right on cue,
back to reality.
A light cry pulls my darling from Never, Never Land.

Until tomorrow, until tomorrow.

Bewley's Cafe, Dublin
Bewley’s Cafe, Dublin

3 Things I Learned While Traveling

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

The Internet is exploding with travel tips and recommendations. Any seasoned wanderluster could easily fork over a helpful list of the top 100 things to consider while on the road. Reiterating that knowledge certainly is an option. I could regurgitate a number of renowned resources and remind you to pack light, be smart and merrily gorge your way through the culinary experiences, but I’d much rather share a piece of wisdom: live like you were dying.

IMG_2655#3 Stop Making Excuses – Just Go

And there it is, the infamous two-by-four hitting me square in the jaw. I have only one significant regret in connection to world travel, one so large and time sensitive that it can never be undone. I never studied abroad. I let love and self-imposed responsibility affect a truly life-defining moment sure to be filled with fierce independence, cultural intelligence and personal development.

Two pieces of advice: If your loved one is even half the partner you make them out to be then you’ll be greeted with open arms upon your return, the joy bubbling deeply within to once again steal a kiss, breathe in your scent and embrace your soul. So stop making excuses and go make some memories. Second, it’s highly unlikely there is anything so serious and pressing in your late teens/early twenties that you literally can’t take advantage of such an opportunity. This decade of wild spirit and self-discovery is paramount to the future you, a better you, a more worldly you, experiences that will forever contribute to a higher level of interpersonal connection and influence, intelligent discourse about a variety of mature topics and immense appeal to future employers. So stop making excuses and go make some memories.

Edinburgh, Scotland

        #2 Keep the “Punchiness” to a Minimum

Manners exist for a reason. Americans tend to place them on a shelf, myself included. I’d say our progressive culture is like a fine wine, but I’d be lying. We’re probably better compared to barrel-aged whiskey…requiring decades to develop a distinctly dignified flavor that, once opened, still delivers a bold, powerful finish strong enough to knock the most experienced of drinkers on his ass. As a collective culture, we’re loud, brash and crude.

Acquiring a sense or worldliness is part of any traveler’s journey so be cognoscente that our forwardness is not everyone’s afternoon tea. Educate yourself about the local culture, traditions, civilian expectations and laws. And for Christ’s sake, watch your goddamn mouth!

“I’ve got the whole world in my hands.”

           #1 You’ll Never Be the Same Again

Once you’ve committed to the trip and experienced the unbelievable high, I promise you’ll never be the same again. Knowledge is magnified and opinions become more well rounded. Your level of self-awareness matures beyond belief and those passions in life, while always bearing intensity, surge with a new sense of resilience to any obstacle in your way of achieving greatness.

As the name of this blog suggests, see.do.conquer.

Life in a small town

“Living in a small town…is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you. People in large towns are like only-children.”
Joyce Dennys, Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945

There are only two breeds of people in a small town, those who will make it their life’s mission to preserve its self-perceived charm and those who can’t wait to get the hell out. At least that’s what I always thought. How immature. The highs and lows we consider life experiences have altered my linear perspective of small town life over the years. I guess with age comes wisdom.

I’m a protective mother of my roots. It’s true. I’m allowed to rant and rave at the drop of a pin about the quirks of my upbringing but ready to throw down the second an outsider thinks of passing judgement on the memories I consider sacred and the people I call heroes.

It’s funny. I see this “country life” fad heating up and I’m transported to adolescence when I felt utterly suffocated by the overwhelmingly loud silence of small town life. You could live miles apart from the nearest neighbor, but it was like Tommy’s peep show any day of the week… no detail of one’s life left unknown. In the midst of such wide open spaces, you couldn’t help but to feel trapped.

Dosey doe a few decades back to a generation that didn’t glorify being from a small town like the modern-day lyrics of bro country. It wasn’t good, bad or ugly. It just was. It was a time when you fell into one of two camps: proud to defend your folks and humble way of life or embarrassed to share too much information, fearing it would have you pegged as simple, closed minded, naive or even racist. It was back when boots, chewing tobacco and greasy hands were a staple of hard work and hard life, not the billboard for pop culture. Back when country didn’t mean Barbie blondes sitting on tailgates down by the river sippin’ Coors Light piss water in their Daisy Dukes, skimpy bikini tops and cowboy boots. Back when there was no such thing as a small town poser because it was the last thing you wanted to be. Back when…

JamboreeSmall town life was boys being shipped off to war and returning as men. It was barely having a roof over your head but somehow scraping up enough cash to afford that new truck payment each month. It was being able to run a tab at the local hardware store and townies not giving two shits what they said to whom because political correctness was for the birds. Small town life was the same drunks parking their asses on the same stools night after night, sipping their hard-earned dollars away. Their breath wreaking of cheap liquor and stale cigarettes.

Small town life was hussies, some old enough to be my mother, wearing tank tops two sizes too small and working their way through the bar, rubbing up on the nearest schmuck gullible or drunk enough to sponsor the next round. It was high school sweethearts getting hitched shortly after graduation, too young and in love to foresee the challenges marriage presents and single moms carrying two jobs just to get by with the basics, while local burnouts got high every chance they could score. Small town life was the American flag flying high and proud in everyone’s front yard long before the attack of September 11 – no excuses. And don’t forget all walks of life gathering at a local establishment to exchange the latest shop talk on their way to or from work. (Typically, a wide range of worldly topics arise including hunting, fishing, camping and off road season; who is no longer talking to who, who is banging or swinging with who, who broke up with who and whose kid got into what trouble with who; as well as race, religion, gun control, “those Democrats” and taxes.) Come Sunday morning, the sinners and the saints sit side by side at service, exchanging genuine prayers of communal love and kindness, only to pick up where they left off the day before.

I revel in the social juxtaposition, really. It’s the only microcosm of its kind, a beautiful hot mess. Possibly even more fascinating is the fact that nothing I stated is unique to where I grew up. But like many others my age, I couldn’t wait to claw myself out of the coffin, catch the first bus to Port Authority and somehow, in the sea of welcomed strangers, find my own voice.

Flower Fields             I reference the small town memories as back when but in truth, nothing has changed… I’ve changed. Life experiences have broadened my worldview, and I’m forever grateful. No longer do I feel threatened by the overwhelmingly loud silence – I miss it. No longer do I feel lonely in wide open spaces – I yearn for it. No longer do I feel irritated at incessant inquisitiveness – I envy the sense of community. And no longer do I feel inferior to rich development life. Instead, I feel an indescribable amount of pride in my family, my community, my town and my roots.

It took me finding the love of my life, traveling the world and settling in another small town to realize that I’ll always be an outsider within their asylum walls but never in my own. These days the gossip, nosiness and predictability that once wracked my nerves are fleeting thoughts often replaced with the fondest of memories. It’s true that it takes losing what we have to ever quantify the enormously positive effect it actually had.

Storytelling on the front stoop.

Making “snow angels” in a bed of dandelions. 

Shooting hoops in the front yard during the dead of winter.

Playing hide-and-go-seek in the woods.

Falling asleep on the back porch to the sound of crickets.

Fishing with a makeshift rod at the neighbor’s pond.

Exploring old dirt roads, abandoned barns and overgrown fields.

Enjoying the annual pig roast at Winfield Farm. 

Camping in a sleeping bag under the stars.

Playing without the interruption of cell phones.

Learning the value of independence.

CornfieldsI share these thoughts not to devalue small town life, rather to celebrate it. It’s that special place where you learn the value of manners and an entire community disciplines your child. It’s that special place where you bow your head before meals and offer a prayer before bedtime even if you don’t think the Big Guy Upstairs is listening. It’s that special place where chickens run wild, kids name their pet ducks and men still tip their hats to ladies while holding the door. It’s that special place where the tee-ball coach still frequents your parent’s business 25 years later and community members that you don’t even know drop off handmade baby blankets for your unborn child. It’s that special place where neighbors and strangers alike rally by your side during natural disasters, accidents, divorce, sickness and death – making sure you have a hot meal, fresh clothes and someone who cares.

It’s that special place called home.

Jim Thorpe, the Switzerland of America

It’s been dubbed the Switzerland of America, and why not? Scenic landscapes embrace visitors from every angle. Rugged mountains, terraced gardens, breathtaking water views, historic railroad tracks and a lively downtown area offer a sweet escape for everyone. It’s a true black diamond, as its coal roots suggest.

Jim Thorpe, formerly known as Mauch Chunk, was founded in the early 1800s by the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company as a transportation hub for the booming coal industry during the Civil War and Industrial Revolution. As its Leni Lenape Native American name suggests, it was a true sleeping bear. Home to the second operational railroad in the United States, Mauch Chunk was an economic powerhouse and major supplier to larger industrial areas such as Philadelphia, New York and Bethlehem until the advent of oil and the Great Depression.

According to Mary’s Guesthouse, a local establishment in Jim Thorpe, “To get the mined coal from the open-pit area of Summit Hill down to the river at Mauch Chunk, engineers devised an ingenious Gravity Railroad that coasted tons of coal over eight miles down a slight grade to a point above town where it was chuted into barges or rail cars. Known as the Switchback, for the old mule trail that it replaced, this was the world’s first working railroad [Fact check: This is debatable depending upon the data source] and enabled Mauch Chunk to get more coal onto river or rail quicker than other transportation systems.” As demand increased, more advanced engineering capabilities were necessary to extract and transport the coal up to the Summit Hill loading area and down the switchback to the Lehigh Canal. 

Mauch Chunk, once booming because of coal production, declined with the progression of the Great Depression. “Town leaders changed the name of the town to Jim Thorpe in 1954, in the hope of reviving the tourist trade, and interred the body of the Greatest Athlete in the World on the east side of town, where his mausoleum stands today,” according to the Inn at Jim Thorpe.

Today, tourism is the beating heart of this quaint town, attracting tens of thousands of visitors per year.

Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, has earned numerous distinctions, including nods in National Geographic, the Travel Channel/USA Today and Philadelphia Magazine as being among the best places to live and play – a captivating, friendly and romantic spot to get away from all of the hustle and bustle. Stroll through the narrow streets and admire the Victorian architecture. Roam timeless antique and book stores where you’re sure to find a hidden treasure to showcase in your home. Enjoy some adventure by hiking or rafting the Lehigh gorge. Take your children for homemade ice cream and enjoy an old-fashioned candy shop. Stay at a charming bed and breakfast establishment or hang out in creatively-themed coffee houses, bars and restaurants. 

How blessed am I that this gem is right in my backyard.

The opportunity is NOW

Photo Credit: BBC News
Photo Credit: BBC News

This morning we learned about ISIS destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra Syria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back nearly 2,000 years to the first century AD.

As I read through the specifics of the attack, I was consumed with anger and disgust at such a despicable display of humanity and then I felt an overwhelming sadness. Sadness for those who lost their lives. Sadness for the mindless acts of terror that destroyed historic ruins. And sadness for all those who call themselves world travelers.

My mind wandered to the blogs and Instagram accounts I follow, as well as the common themes weaved into those entries: self discovery, freedom, adventure, enlightenment and the ability to see.do.conquer. I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer we’ll have the ability to backpack or tour all corners of the world without seriously sacrificing personal safety or, something that needs to be equally considered, how much longer these wonders of the world will even exist due to natural disasters, human pollution, continued vandalism or global terrorism.

Venice, Italy
Venice, Italy

A memory of Venice creeps into my thoughts today, a floating city with ancient origins that is certainly in danger of geographic extinction.

“The flow of rivers and canals mingles with the wash of the sea, with the slow movement of the Adriatic tides, checked by peninsulas and sandbanks. The barene, those stretches that are now submerged, now emerging, sometimes appear to twinkle on the horizon below their fringes of weeds. The mysterious play of the currents, in a slow process of undermining, eroding, and filling, shifts the deepest basins and brimming lands, providential pastures for crab, shrimp, shellfish, octupus, squid, gulls, snipe, herons, wild ducks, shoveler ducks–all the incorrigible hunters and fishers. And I thought this was an inanimate realm,” said Frédéric Vitoux in Venice: The Art of Living.

Will cities such as Venice, Hamburg and Amsterdam become the new tales of Atlantis with their art, architecture and history submerged like the Titanic?

For those of you evaluating the pros and cons of traveling or studying abroad, do it now while you have the chance. Save up your funds, map out your adventures and do it. Face your fears, stop making excuses, capture a lifetime of memories and just do it. I can’t guarantee you won’t miss flights, lose your luggage, spend more than you budgeted, get lost and even encounter some dangerous situations, but what I can promise you is this: If you don’t muster the inner strength to jump in with both feet, broaden your horizons and simply explore, then life will eventually catch up with you and the opportunity may be lost forever like the Temple of Baalshamin. Carpe Diem folks, carpe diem!

Is Backpacking Changing Or Am I?

Great perspective and entertaining delivery.

Bemused Backpacker

As you read this lament of a not so modern day backpacker I hope you will excuse this brief sojourn into my grown up self as I mourn the loss of my twenties – and even early thirties – and embrace my inner grumpy old man.

I have been backpacking a long time now, over ten years now in fact, and in that time I have seen so many changes in the world and in the backpacker community. More people are travelling independently now, and that is a great thing, but as modern technology has advanced and time has moved on, the way in which people travel has inexorably changed too.

I remember a time when travel was simpler, or at least it seemed to be. Back when ‘The Beach’ wasn’t nostalgic, when digital cameras were still a relatively new thing and mobile phones only came in the old Nokia…

View original post 1,800 more words

Road trip to Toronto, Canadian beer and Kenny

I love Canadians. I really do. Not only am I fortunate enough to be in the company of some lovely Canadian colleagues who dish out the American jokes as quickly as I poke them with an “Eh”, but also I consider myself an aficionado of beer, hockey and maple syrup. Not to mention, I have a thing for moose. Consider it a mountain girl thing, but I think they’re awfully adorable. For these reasons and many more that shed light on my glowing personality (but we unfortunately lack the time to adequately explore in this single post), they crowned me an Honorary Canadian. I’m not lying. This honest-to-God happened nearly two years ago to the day. It was a very proud moment and I have an impromptu concert to thank for making some of my professional relationships more personal.

Melissa, Denise, SteffAugust is the beginning of I-hate-it-but-I-love-it season within the automotive industry. It’s kind of the checkered flag setting the pace for the next 500 laps or, in our case, the next six months – SEMA, PRI, Keystone Big Shows, NTEA and more. Our team was prepared and excited for the upcoming Canadian event, divied into caravans for the trek across the border and welcomed the long week with a “Game On” attitude. A couple days before the trip, an industry friend offered me two extra tickets to the Kenny Chesney show taking place at the Toronto Amphitheater – no strings attached. Oh wow, what do you know. I’m going to be in Toronto on trade show business. SCORE!

Chesney ConcertSIDEBAR: Now, you have to understand the context of this situation. A) I’ve been made fun of for many years and have rightfully earned the Kenny Chesney Biggest Fan in NEPA title. B) I reference my Kenny Chesney stories in the familiar – I just call him Kenny and everyone around me knows who I’m referencing even if there are three others with the same name in the room. C) I attend the show each year in Philadelphia where my flip flops are firmly planted in the sandbar section for optimal viewing.

BACK TO THE STORY: The only catch was we were coming home on Sunday and the show was taking place the following Thursday. Buzz kill, I know. Most responsible people would evaluate that situation and determine the following:

  • One week prior, I was cramped in the third row of a minivan with my colleagues for eight hours and then spent the next couple days moving pallets, setting up booths, helping with the show, tearing down and getting very little sleep during the entire process only to get back in the car with those same fantastic colleagues (who really are fantastic, by the way) and make the eight hour trip home… in the same third row of a minivan. Logic would sound something like this. “I should respectfully decline the free tickets that require additional time off, another 16-20 hours round trip to the same city I was in less than a week ago and, again, have no sleep.”
Photo Credit: B.Neeley
Photo Credit: B.Neeley

Instead I accepted immediately, extended my 100 thank you’s and figured the rest would fall into place. And it did like so many other spontaneous adventures do. My sidekick Neeley and I had a couple of days to plan our route of attack and secure arrangements. Our bosses gave us their blessing to work out of the Toronto office for two days (to this day, I still wonder if the request was granted because of their motherly enjoy-it-while-you-can understanding, fear of me crying like a child if we were told no or a combination of both). We hit the road Wednesday night after work, making sure to load up on coffee, carbs, sugar and mixtapes. We arrived just before 3 a.m., settled in for the night and showed up to the Toronto office on time the following morning (surprisingly). The following 48 hours included breakfast in a corky art gallery on the first floor of our B&B, a walk around the city, a FREE Kenny concert, an autograph by Kacey Musgraves, my first Tim Horton’s experience and heaven on Earth at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Syracuse (which also included two Torpedo IPA’s that went straight to my head) – all of which made good office talk.

Toronto, you’ll forever be remembered as the city I visited twice in one week, heard “Kenny who?” more times than I can count, crashed a Carnival setup and initiated a bond with some of my favorite people, which eventually led to my reign as Honorary Canadian.