Friday, November 19, 2010


Had the strangest dream a few nights back. My wife and I were out for dinner with a couple we’re good friends with (Sandy and Mary,) and I decided to go outside and take a few photos while the others waited in line. As often happens when I get started with my camera, I got back later that I thought, and the others were already sitting at a nice table for four, without me. Nice open atmosphere, wood floor and matching décor. For reasons not explained to me in the dream, I was banished to sit at another table. I don’t know who sent me away, it wasn’t explained, but it was understood, I could not go to their table.

So here I am at a cafeteria style table, with another family to my left. I apparently won the lucky draw and got to sit next to their overly energetic kid, probably around five years old, and he kept bumping up against me and reaching toward my food. Notice I didn’t say my plate.

My food was brought out on a napkin; guess they ran out of plates. Then they brought out my main course, a piece of fish wrapped like a rolled up newspaper. It appeared to be cooked, at least it was hot. The sealed wrapper still had a Kroger price tag on it. And go figure; they were out of the special dipping sauce this place was so well known for. They brought me a small plastic container with some greenish, lumpy looking something that I could not identify for the life of me.

All this time my back was to my entourage. I just somehow knew not to turn around.

There’s a time and a season for everything, including sitting down for a meal. I still don’t see the problem with catching a photo or two; the opportunity may be fleeting.

Much of my writing comes from dreams; maybe my conscious is speaking. Or my fears. Sometimes I feel like I’m plagiarizing because I don’t come up with my ideas “on my own,” middle of the day, while sitting in front of a blank screen. But I do seem to do my most creative story creations while asleep, without all the distractions of the day beating down on me for my undivided attention. That unbridled imagination seems to kick in when nothing else overrides it. Still, I should keep a closer eye on what I eat at night.

I can’t remember what I was taking pictures of, but I sure hope it was good.

I need to finish that dream to see what was for dessert. And to see what I had to eat it out of.

And with that- to all a good night……….

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Some day, in the years to come, you will be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow of your life. But the real struggle is here, now… Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by steady, long continued process.------Phillips Brooks

Friday morning, around 7AM. I had set the alarm to go to my parent’s house, with my son, to pull the cover over the pool. It’s that time of year. I got ready about ten minutes quicker than Robbie, and I stood looking out the side glass on our front door. A spider had set up camp outside the glass on the right side, and an energetic mosquito had become snared in its web. I don’t remember ever seeing such a fight for survival.

I stood and watched for nearly ten minutes as the desperate catch flew in all directions, then began flying up and down, as hard as he could, back and forth when he reached the limits of his new territory. He slammed violently at the upper limit of the web, then the same at the bottom. Up and down, side to side. The whole web shimmied as the mosquito, knowing instinctively that time was running out, let it all loose in an attempt to survive.

I snapped a photo of the struggle through the glass, then we left.

Later I thought about how the spider was strangely absent during all of this. Wouldn’t it be simple for the spider to move it with the mosquito firmly ensnared and finish him off? That, however, is not how our struggles work a good portion of the time. I can just imagine the spider sitting back, watching the fight for survival, with a wisp of satisfaction, knowing full well what the outcome will be. For a high percentage of people, the struggle, whether brief or extended, has the same result- in the end, there you are, battered and bruised, ready to throw in the towel because it’s too painful, way too much work and struggle. All the spider had to do was sit back and wait, and if his web has a good enough snare, his meal would be waiting on him after hopelessness set in.

When we quit too soon we are giving someone else our good fortune. Savvy investors know to move in and take over an uncomfortable situation, therefore reaping our rewards that we worked so hard for, yet never claimed as ours.

Ever spent loads of money on a car, then practically gave it away when that “last straw” was reached? Might have been a bad battery. How many times has the buyer gotten an inexpensive vehicle that ran problem free from then on? Just look at what you’ve already swapped out; what else can break?

Or how about the idea that you walk around with in your head, unfinished. I mentioned to my wife a number of years back an idea I had that I figured would make good money in retail. Every so often I would mention it again, but nothing was ever done. It simply did not fit high enough on my priority ladder to get serious consideration. Good idea, poor execution. About six months ago I was in a chain clothing store and saw my idea for sale at all the registers. Looked like sales were pretty good, considering the half empty boxes on the counters. I wonder if the other hundreds of locations carry my invention as well?

Success in any endeavor means holding on when others are letting go. Without struggle nothing worthwhile will be achieved, so the saying goes. The struggle makes something of you that will ultimately give you the tools for success.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Walking Through Illusion---by Betsy Otter Thompson

For every emotional action taken, an emotional mirror returned.

Book review-

Walking Through Illusion----by Betsy Otter Thompson

Ms. Thompson’s unique insights using characters familiar to many is both bold and effective.

Beginning with the book’s title, illusion clouds many aspects of our lives, and this point is considered extensively throughout the chapters of “Walking Through Illusion.”

Each chapter delves into a unique subject that causes the reader to examine his/hers own relationship with oneself, and how to overcome the challenges and shortcomings that we all battle. Twenty three chapters cover a range from morality, beliefs, approval, truth, complaints, betrayal, death, and time. Biblical characters are used throughout, through their conversations with Jesus.

Paul tested unsuccessfully until reaching a place of giving suitably; you gave superficially and received superficially; you gave sacrificially and received superficially; to receive suitably you have to give suitably. (page 47)
Mark was instructed that If you think up an idea it exists. If you live an idea, it’s yours. (page74)

A common theme throughout the book, and one well woven in throughout, is that mirrors reflect our views and actions, and what we offer to others is reciprocated. The “mirror of the moment.” For some it takes much trial and error to figure this out, as she describes so well.

The “Personal Insights” at the end of each chapter are powerful, showing Ms. Thompson’s real life struggles and the learning process she has gone through. This section is a must read. It’s easy to understand, but very thought provoking. An example- I find it hard to trust advice. Not because it isn’t sound, but because it’s often generic. What is helpful to another might not be helpful to me. I trust an inner voice that I refer to as my instincts. (page 122) and What is a meaningful legacy? (page 153)
Another common thread in all the stories is this: we can often find the answers to our struggles within ourselves.

Insightful and full of thoughts that will both inspire and provoke, “Walking Through Illusion” is worthy of its place on your reading list, whether it’s the first time or a follow up. It’s sure to inspire.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Big Haynes Creek Hiking_Labor Day 2010

Keep your sense of proportion by regularly, preferably daily,
visiting the natural world. - Catlin Matthews

Labor Day, 2010. This morning started of pretty cool, especially with the top down at 9AM. Temps in the low 60’s, clear skies with the beautiful morning glow sidelighting everything it touched. My wife had something to do for a few hours, so I dropped her off and went looking for a photo op or two, with a little walking mixed in.

First stop was Costley Mill; I have wanted to try to photograph the site for a while. The closed gate and sign that read “No trespassing, violators will be prosecuted” enticed me to look elsewhere.

With no time for driving around, I decided on the Big Haynes Creek Nature Preserve in Conyers, Ga. I have been there before, and I see something different every time it seems. Canoeing is allowed at the site, but no motorized boats or inflatable rafts, and no fishing, swimming, or wading. Probably due to the close proximity to the water treatment facility.

I have walked the trails here several times, and I find a new path on every trip. Today I chose the line that ran along the lake, staying within water’s sight most of the way.

This time the trails, although well traveled, were tight with greenery in places, especially when I got off the beaten path looking for photo ops. Might be worth considering if you go there this time of year in shorts or a skirt. Poison Ivy alert…….

My first stop, as usual, was the two docks overlooking the lake, just beyond the parking area.

The view here is always pretty, whether blue skies like today or drenched in fog for a surreal gothic scene, or shrouded in white during a snowstorm. I have seen them all. Today I saw lots of dragonflies
and some butterflies,

a couple of frogs leaping in and out of the water, and a few large birds, similar to a pelican. Lots of noise; nature in its pristine form. I saw a few other visitors; two couples that spoke, and a group of horseback riders on the trail I walked through the wooded area.

Leaving the lake and heading towards the myriad of trails, I noticed the variety of traffic that enjoys the trails. Shoe prints, dog tracks, and horseshoe marks dotted the trail, especially in the few muddy areas I came across (usually at a crossover of a small stream.) Interesting things to photograph were everywhere, and I have included some of the images I took today.

The trails are clearly marked,

although I suppose one could get turned around on the trails. I like getting off the trails a little ways, but I did fine. I saw one mountain bike rider on today’s hike, but I have seen more in the past.
Today I stayed along side the lake, but on my last visit, with my daughter Marissa, we walked a different trail and came to a section that was granite. It reminded me of a small Stone Mountain. This was the location of the ’96 olympic summer games mountain biking competition. We had to watch our steps and move to the side a couple of times; the bikers were flying down the steep, unforgiving terrain.
Elevation changes reminded me of the hills of Tennessee. You can pick strenuous or flat, it’s your choice. Just watch for the bikes and horses.
Here’s a link for more info.

A new dock, a part of the never ending expansion and improvements, stood incomplete and blocked off. More reason to believe I’ll keep finding something new and inspiring every time I visit.

A few photos and comments from my last couple of visits, one during the January 2010 snowstorm and the March visit with my daughter-

The scene during the snow was surreal. First, I have never seen snowflakes that thick in Georgia.

As I stood at the canoe launch with my son Robbie, the leather hat I wore, primarily to protect my camera, started collecting snow.

This is probably laughable to those of you that live further north, but it’s unusual in Georgia, where schools and businesses shut down at the first rumor of a snowflake. I was amazed at the sight, but we wisely headed back home soon after arriving, because snow plows are non existent here, and the road became impassible before long.
When Marissa and I visited, we came across what appears to be the remnants of a horse show location, or something related to horses. This was close to Costley Mill Road. My apologies if we ventured off the nature preserve; trail markings were close by, so I don’t think we did.

I received a call from my wife saying she was ready to be picked up, and I told her I was a twenty minute walk from the car.

Really, I was a little optimistic in this, especially since photos kept jumping out at me on the walk back.
I finally slung the camera over my shoulder and watched the trail, mindful of the time. When I arrived near the parking area, my wife and her sister were on the trail, talking to someone they had just met, walking her dog.

The hot Atlanta temps had begun to set in, but despite the tired legs and sweat, it was quite enjoyable. I look forward to the next visit, maybe in the Fall after the leaves have begun changing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Trying to Find Something Good

Try to find something good you can pull from each experience……

Several weeks back I made an expensive mistake with my primary drive, a ’01 Eclipse Spyder. Say what you want about my mechanical inability, but the bottom line is this: I did not pay close attention to the maintenance schedule or I would have noticed the line about replacing the timing belt at 60K miles. I haven’t driven a car with that requirement in a while, and this happens to be a non clearance engine. That means bent valves, all twenty four of them. It happened two hours from my house, so I chose to have it towed (before I knew the extent of the damage) to a local shop near the Georgia/North Carolina border.

It took several weeks for the repairs to be completed, mostly due to a two week backup at the local machine shop where the head was taken for resurfacing. My son accompanied me on the two hour drive to pick it up, soaking up the mountain views as we approached the garage, plus enjoying the 61 degree mountain air. Afterwards he joined me for breakfast at a local diner before driving back.

If you can find out where the locals eat you’re always in line for a good meal.

When the car had broken weeks before, my two daughters were in the car with me, and sat for an hour at a pull off where the belt broke. We ended up talking to three different locals that stopped to help, all very eccentric, each one of them worth writing about. One man was trying to sell painted mailboxes after telling me all that is wrong with the world, another had pulled in to roll his tobacco and didn’t even know we were there (his words, not mine,) and the other guy just wanted to see what was going on. It will worry me when my girls are both driving by themselves after seeing who stopped to help. They deserve a thanks for their concern , but still, I will be worried.

After the car was towed a few miles back stream, the garage desk operator suggested we walk down to the breakfast house while we waited for our ride to arrive, about a 10 minute walk. We did, and after the girls jumped mud puddles, complained about the high grass and chiggers, and we made the treacherous run across the four lane highway, we made it.

Nothing but locals. Plus this guy (me) with his two daughters, both of whom were texting and talking nonstop. No one seemed too concerned about us, and we enjoyed a nice lunch, plus some unexpected time spent talking and cutting up.

A sign was mounted on the wall, behind the counter where the bill was to be paid. It read “We cook food to order. It takes time. If you want fast food, there is a McDonald’s in town.”

So my son and I made the return trip to eat, this time driving from the garage to the diner. Too much traffic to cross the road on foot anyway.

I decided on pancakes. The menu gave a choice of 1, 2, or 3 big pancakes. Now I’ve seen some slightly exaggerated product descriptions in my time, so I went with the three, figuring they weren’t as big as the menu claimed. Good thing my son was there to help with a portion after he finished his meal. I would say the three pancakes were the size of 6 to 8 normal servings that my wife makes at home.

I went up front to pay, and I asked for a to-go coffee. The lady running the register, the same one who took the order, brought out the food, and refilled drinks, was very friendly. I suspect she is owner or co-owner. I saw her go to a table and sit for a moment to talk to the guests, and she knew them, I could tell. She seemed to be a kind, gentle soul.

As I was paying, I mentioned how much I liked the two black and white studio portraits framed and mounted on the wall, standing out from the myriad of other photos on the same wall. At least they stood out to me, since I am a portrait photographer. Both featured a baby, and one photo had the dad, one had the mom. Very sweet poses, and a loving expression from both parents. The photographer captured the moment well.

The lady behind the counter’s eyes lit up, and she told me about the photographer taking these at a local event, and how she loved them as well. She said, “I have something else you would probably enjoy, even though it isn’t a photograph. It’s a painting.”

After the transaction was complete, she took me through a closed door into a secondary dining area, one that must be reserved for peak times. Maybe Friday and Saturday nights. She switched on the overhead fluorescent lights and pointed to a rather large painting on the outside wall, mounted between two windows. The painting was huge, I’m guessing four feet high. It showed two boys dressed in overalls, sitting on hay bales, with a pig in the foreground. Looked like a country fair scene. She told me these were her two grandsons, and the painting was made from a photograph taken of them recently. The photo was nice, but the story behind it made it more special.

The artist, a friend of the lady I spoke to, suffered a stroke before painting the work of art. She had to hold her hand on the arm she painted with the keep it steady, and despite her limitations, the work is beautiful and full of life. This was after learning to paint initially without the disability, so she had to relearn, and figure out how to overcome the obstacles to keep doing what she loved. She probably had to go through a painful relearning process for things we take for granted. Don’t you love it when someone pushed barriers out of the way and does something he/she has a passion for?

As we left the room and she turned the lights back off, she made this statement: “Wish I could paint like that. I can’t even draw a straight line. Guess I’m just here to takes money and wait tables.”

I told her kind words can touch people and you may never know what you’ve done for the other person.

She agreed, and said “We all have a purpose, I guess.”

She talked about the painting, saying when she looked at the older boy, probably around eight or nine years old, she saw everything about him. The personality just jumped off the canvas. She pointed to the eyes, and said they were captured just right. It seemed the artist was looking straight into his heart and mind and pulled everything out, through those beautiful eyes.

It’s been said that the eyes are the window to the soul. I’ve found in portrait photography the eyes can be what makes or breaks a good image. I always look for a good catchlight to reflect in the eyes to show some life. The light is easy to see, and it’s also easy to see when it’s missing. Have you ever seen someone smile with their mouth, big and wide, but the eyes are full of daggers? It’s often times easy to pick up on a kind spirit, even if you are meeting someone for the first time. Some can fake it, but not for long. The other extreme stands out as well. We can see life or a lack of life in someone’s eyes.

About the car; it runs smoother with less engine noise than before the breakdown (noisy valves or was it the water pump that was replaced?) And the owner/mechanic told me about a class action deal that will help me get a rebate for a new paint job on the car. His daughter has an identical hardtop version and he shared the rebate info with me.

There is usually a silver lining hiding somewhere. I will admit sometimes it takes years to figure out what it is.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Beauty Within

“But beauty itself is not given to us by anyone; it is a power we have within us from the gate, a radiance inside us.”----Marianne Williamson

I attended a writer’s workshop today, listening to wonderful personal stories of both disappointment and triumph, as only a writer can present it. I sat back and soaked in as much as I could.

I’ve heard it said that “if it was easy everyone would be doing it.” I agree with this statement and it can be applied to so many areas of life, and listening for a couple of hours reinforced this.

Getting published the traditional way is very difficult. Today’s economy doesn’t help either; major publishing houses are in difficult times financially. The industry is changing with digital publishing becoming more prominent, and it’s tougher than ever for a new author with an undeveloped platform to break in. Agents routinely receive 100 or more queries from authors each day, all hoping to stand out from the rest and have their manuscript chosen for further consideration.

Despite the odds, the room was full.

Having a passion for something defies logic sometimes. Webster’s defines it like this:
a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept; intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction

Having a passion involves feeling an emotion for something. It’s something that you have experienced. My passion for photography came over time, the process of learning to take what I see in my head and reproduce it on film (and now on digital media.) I did not have a passion for it before stepping into the waters and trying it out. Same story with my writing. What I have found is you can create amazing results when you have a genuine passion for something, whether it’s a career, hobby, social or religious beliefs, or anything else you deem as worthwhile.

This beauty within us is powerful; We can achieve amazing things when we’re driven from within to not only achieve, but excel.

We can also touch other’s lives in such a way that their own experiences are enriched. Inspiring to achieve. And inspiring them to not lose sight of their own dreams.

The following is from an article by Dr. Jim Vargo, University of Alberta:

I believe that the smallest act or word of kindness is seldom given in vain. On a number of occasions former students have thanked me for something I had long forgotten. Little things do mean a lot to the recipients of our actions, so it is probably best if we try to make those little things positive ones. This sentiment is captured in the following verse, which appeared in the December 1991 issue of a
magazine called Leadership.

You never know when someone may catch a dream from you.
You never know when a little word or something you may do
May open up the windows of a mind that seeks the light...
The way you lived may not matter at all,
But you never know, it might.
Published Winter 1994/95.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What They Hear

Ever been in a restaurant and heard a kid holler out something that made the room go silent?

The parents are horrified. Can’t believe the little angel would say that. “ If you say that again, I’ll wear you out….”

Kids have a way of repeating what they hear. After all, that’s how they learn, hearing and observation. Silent observation, which is very powerful. Repeated at the worst possible time. Funny how kid’s innocence spews out such hatred. They haven’t learned the ropes yet, that what they’re hearing is wrong and should only be repeated around a select circle of friends. With time they’ll figure it all out, but childhood innocence knows no prejudices.

Kids are usually a reflection of their parents; most children are too weak to break the chains, while some are nurtured in the right direction from the start. One of two extremes. I have heard adults using language around their children that I am uncomfortable hearing, let alone hearing it around the younger set. Are they surprised down the road when they can’t fit in a civilized society?

Peers can affect kids as well, but nothing like parents that spend time around the family. An observant parent will cut off contact with kid’s peers when necessary.

How we look at each other as parents/spouses affects their fragile world, and it alters what they will expect from their suitors down the road. They’re looking up to us as role models; if she looks for a husband that was like dad, will here life be full of happiness and love or violence and heartache? Do we look with reverence or disdain toward our leaders? Prayer life or no? It’s obvious to the kids. Their innocent world is much simpler, at least for a season. Yes or no, up or down, black or white, love or hate. And so on.

It’s tough for a generation to break the habits they were raised under. It’s a natural cycle that flows way too smoothly. What they need up front is the leadership that was intended for them, way back down the road a few generations before a set of parents messed things up. Quite a responsibility.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Why Don't they Just Rebuild?

Ravaged by a series of missteps, bad luck, or a combination of the two, the remnants aren’t enticing.

All that work for nothing, he thought. The most well laid plans, a perfect entrance and exit strategy if there ever was one. Then something spectacular happened. Or perhaps not a single cataclysmic event, only a series of well orchestrated incidents that totaled up to failure. Why me, he asks. I’ve always tried to do people right; treat with respect and kindness. Tried to help others reach their goals.

I remember as a child riding through Panama City with my parents, enjoying the water of the gulf rolling in, then back out like clockwork. Opposite the beach stood rows of houses and businesses, some new, a few old and battered, others nothing more than a foundation, with debris still covering some. The remnants of a violent storm a year earlier, still leaving a trail of evidence. As a young child, maybe eight years old, I looked at this stark reminder with wonderment. With youthful innocence and no predetermined ideas of why it couldn’t be done, I remember thinking, why don’t they just rebuild? Got the water right here, it’s a great spot, the others rebuilt, why don’t they just do it?

Life’s heavy weights had not yet begun to pull on me, one negative thought at a time, a sharply spoken word by an authoritative figure, well meaning people that simply had no ambition to do anything and could only teach what they knew. In my youthful bliss I simply couldn’t understand it.

Why do some choose to rebuild, while others seem to vanish, leaving behind a trail of debris and unfulfilled dreams?

The debris field may be the most prevalent deterrent to recovery for a failing enterprise. Storms will come and go, taking with them a fair share of dreams and hard work. A solid foundation will stand the test of a storm, despite the destruction of the main structure. The foundation, upon which everything of substance began, is still there, waiting to be rebuilt upon, better this time, correcting a few mistakes along the way. But to rebuild, the debris field must be dealt with. Painful and overwhelming, the cleanup takes time. Credit takes time to re-establish, memories are sometimes slow to fade. It’s tough to see over the pile of reminders.

Lying in the debris field, bleeding and full of despair, a half wall remains, reminding of what once was and could have been. A painful reminder of the failures of one’s past. Dwelling on the remnants will not entice anyone to move forward, but only to feel despondent. What’s the use? I’m a failure, I can’t do anything right.

Cleanup is essential. No rebuilding is possible until it’s complete.

On your back, looking up at the overwhelming scene, a swift blow comes across your head, a piece of lumber from your dismal failures. So expected, yet so unexpected. Could be a creditor, with others lined up waiting their respected turns. Could be a family member, full of venom, waiting for the opportunity to rub salt in your wounds. Perhaps it’s that good friend you thought you knew so well. Definitely a naysayer.

If only they could walk in my shoes……

Sadly, some never build it back. Better than before, off the same foundation they have already worked hard to establish. One day in the not so distant future, a savvy investor will walk by the field of debris and say, “If they aren’t going to rebuild, it, I am.”

Start with an unshakable foundation and mix with determination. Nothing can stop you now.


You may be familiar with the ‘50’s experiments with rats. They were placed in containers of water with walls too high for climbing and water to deep for standing. The rats drowned quickly. However, if the rat was rescued after it stopped swimming just before drowning, and then subjected to the same experiment later, the rat could swim much longer.

Hope is important to people as well. Even if it’s the carrot dangling in front of us, offering that false sense of hope and security, it keeps us going, at least for a season.

I remember a story a coworker told me years back. His aging grandfather had recently died, well into his nineties. He had lived an independent lifestyle forever, even after retiring from work. He stayed busy with chores around the house, made his own oatmeal every morning. One day one of his kids decided he was much too old to live alone, and insisted he sell the place and move in. With nothing to strive for, no goals left, no hope for anything other that sleeping and eating, he went downhill quickly and was soon gone. How many times does this happen to retirees?

This morning I was on our sun room with my wife. We have new windows, and you can slide the windows to a variety of positions to have it screened in, or completely open. Susie noticed a wasp flying around, bumping in to the windows, trying to get out but well beyond the point of fear or fight. He had lost all hope, and out of instinct kept buzzing around the same spot, weakly trying to escape. He was following the same routine that had probably started the night before when he flew in the open door to the back yard, then became trapped when someone came in and closed the door.

Susie walked to the window and opened it so the wasp could escape. Oddly, the wasp kept banging in to the glass, a foot away from freedom. She tried to shoo the wasp toward the open window, but instead of darting violently through the room in self defense, looking for a method of escape at the same time, he weakly flew back to the same spot, ignoring the help. He actually fought against moving in any other direction. I walked over and tried moving him toward a different window, which was now wide open. The wasp had lost all hope, and now had tunnel vision. Running on nothing but instinct, he spent his last hours suffering in a no win situation, only a foot from freedom.

Where do we place our hope? Is it right in front of us all along?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can't Miss a Thing

Some people like to relax and reflect while on vacation. Not me.

As I get older I’m more and more afraid that I’ll miss something, or worse, I won’t get another opportunity to return. It isn’t being more appreciative of things; reality has a way of settling in, saturating everything we do after the clock has ticked a few more times than we’re comfortable with.

My kids are fine with sitting in and reading one afternoon, ignoring the sun and the beach, or the splendor of the mountains. They know without a doubt the sun will rise again, opportunities will repeat themselves. Same way I was at that age.

This week my family has enjoyed Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Beautiful and hot.
We did the expected family stuff that we enjoy together. Ate burgers, some seafood, stopped at an ice cream stand (a couple of times,) the kids played miniature golf. The surf was strong, the shells plentiful. The shells were like walking on glass at times, they were everywhere.
My three kids spent their share of time in the game room, polishing their ping pong skills. Late in the week, my two daughters entered a ping pong contest, and did pretty well.
At night, my wife Susie and I went for walks along the boardwalk along the waterfront. Caught up in the neon glitz and the sounds of a brass quartet, along with other musicians hired by different venues, the night life was anything but boring.
By day, my daughters and myself enjoyed strolling along the beach, looking for unusual shells, taking in the sounds and smells of the Atlantic.
I’ll never tire of these things, especially considering the precious few years we may have with all three kids still at home and traveling with us. All three are teenagers this year.

However, beyond this is where I am changing my definition of a vacation. By my own definition, in the past, vacation meant rest and relaxation, a time for regeneration, for clearing the mind for a return to the daily habits. Not any more.

I’ve decided I can rest when I get home.

The first morning I woke up in the condo, I set the alarm for 5:30AM. I figured this was ample time to dress, grab my camera gear, head down the elevator, and be ready for a 6:04 sunrise. I was right about the time, but I discovered the sun rose a good bit further north, so I did not see the ball of the sun rise up from the water’s edge. The reflection across the water was beautiful, and the colors very nice. I was surprised how many shell hunters were already combing the water’s edge, and digging through the layered pile of shells left behind by previous high tides. I still managed to find a few interesting shells to add to my collection.

Huntington Beach State Park at Murrell’s Inlet, South Carolina. If you love nature, hiking, the beach, or any of the above, this is a place to check out. Entering the park after paying the $5 per person admission ($5 total in this instance,) I soon crossed over the causeway, a two lane road, with a short wood fence on either side (short enough to step over,) and a sidewalk for walking. A couple hundred yards long, the rode provided a boundary for fresh water and salt water.

The fresh water side was loaded with alligators, some barely visible beneath the water’s surface, while others sunbathed on a small sand bar off shore. They were in their own territory; while I was there one crossed over the road from fresh water to salt water, and I watched a game of cat and mouse as a beautiful bird was stalked, but not captured. A local told me the causeway is not a place to stroll after dark; shine your flashlight as you drive across and you will see red eyes flashing back at you.

The salt water marsh was void of water for the most part when I arrived; loads of fiddler crabs darted in and out of their homes amidst the smell and muck. It looked to be a very inhospitable place from where I stood. Later in the day I returned to find the marsh full of water. Seems the high tide of the nearly Atlantic Ocean filled in as a natural overflow. Amazing how the life there can adjust to such a distinct change in conditions every few hours.

I met a photographer there using the same gear I use; nice meeting someone with similar interests. Had a nice conversation, and we’ll stay in contact.

The 1930’s Huntington beachfront mansion is owned by the state, and is well worth the $1 to tour the place. Sits adjacent to one of two public beaches in the park.

Friday morning I decided, after some debate with myself, to visit Bird Island in North Carolina. A little over an hour drive, I got up at 4:15 and arrived just before 6. I made the drive with the top down, and it was so nice during the cool morning hours.

As I left the car and walked the long wood platform to the beach at Sunset Beach, I looked to the left and saw the ball of the sun coming up behind a silhouetted old tree. This came as a surprise, since I was too far south at the condo. I took a series of images before beginning my journey down the beach.

Bird Island, a 2K acre plus sanctuary owned by the state, began down the beach a ways. Isolated from Sunset Beach until Hurricane Bonnie filled in the gap in 1999, the state purchased the birding sanctuary in 2002.

I love the unspoiled landscape of a relatively undisturbed barrier island. It shows how our resort areas could hold up to nature with less buildup. Dunes as high as 15 feet, maybe a little higher.

Someone added a mailbox a ways down the beach, at the dunes. With the phrase “Kindred Spirits” written on the side, several journals and pens lay inside the box, some in plastic bags with seals. Visitors, including myself, wrote their thoughts of this fabulous place.

About a 3 mile round trip for me, including a walk around the corner at the end of the beach, I enjoyed the beauty and sounds of Bird Island. A handful of joggers and bike riders, and one other photographer, enjoyed it as well. All kindred spirits, judging from the expressions and camaraderie displayed by individuals that did not know one another.

All in all, my kind of vacation. My family all had a wonderful time, and enjoyed the time together. We also appreciated a touch of one another’s individuality as well. Too bad we ran out of time; my oldest daughter wanted to ride the slingshot, and I wanted to do the parasailing.

Maybe next round.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Random Details, part 2

Okay, so my sleep pattern is totally messed up this week, and I'm sitting here at 11PM remembering age old trivia that probably doesn't mean a thing to most. But then again, I enjoy finding new little tidbits about family, old friends, acquaintances, you name it. I love to look deeper into the psyche of people close by, those that have the capability to move me in some way, whether by touching me deep within my emotions, or just a casual passer by who can do no more than mildly annoy me. Maybe it works this way with others as well.

First, and briefly, my sleeping pattern for the week. Out of town on business, then some fun. I always revert to my natural sleeping pattern within a week of leaving my regimented 4:30AM wake up call. I enjoy staying up until the midnight to 1AM hour, then sleeping until 7 or 8 ish. I got there rather quickly this time.

A few cars I have driven: 72 Plymouth Scamp (a Valiant with pin stripes and a decal,) 63 Olds 98, 70 Mercury Cougar, 72 Dodge Dart 4 door(what a bomb,) early 80's Toyota Celica, 83 Mercury LN7, mid 80's Dodge Omni, 89 Honda Accord, 94 Nissan pickup, 95 Nissan Titan, 01 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder. I think that covers it all. I still want a Corvette convertible, latest body style.

I am not a sports follower at all, although I do enjoy photographing sports car racing. I used to follow baseball to he point I could quote batting averages for all my favorites, but I have no interest any more. My loss of interest started with free agency. I remember as a kid how a good player coming up through the farm system meant something to look forward to a couple of years down the road. Now it means the new star will hang around a few years and file for free agency. Also, I found other methods of escape, such as photography and writing.

I am very much left handed, to the point that I smile crooked. Check out my photos.

My favorite color for many years was blue, but now I like a variety of bright colors. Orange, red, and "beachy" shades of green, yellow, pink, blue, etc. Any color that will brighten my mood.

I tend to keep things (i.e. junk) longer than I should, then about a week after I finally throw it out I need it. That's why I kept it to start with.

I love to help others, to touch them in some way that leaves them better than I found them. It doesn't always seem that way, I'm pretty quiet natured, but in my heart this is true. Test me and you'll find out. People usually don't ask for any help, and I'm slow to offer it.

Back to business, the week is over.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I'm Not Really That Bad, Am I?

It's taken me a lot of years to figure this one out, but I've about decided I'm okay just the way I am. Don't get me wrong, we can all use a little tweaking here and there, but I'm talking about the underlying principles and personality traits that make us what we are.

We spend way too much time trying to please others and fit within the social guidelines that others love to set for us.It started for me way back in grammar school I suppose. Remember the peer pressure? If you weren't from the right school district, forget it, you won't be hanging with us, kid. From designer clothes to the first car we drive, it all matters, or so they say. A little nudging can be good, and motivate us to reach closer to our potential, but the pressures I remember can be damaging.

We've all heard the phrase "the grass is greener on the other side." Likewise, it's easy to long to be like someone else, to have the qualities and traits he/she has that we don't, while ignoring what we hold that is often times unique and wonderful.

For me, I tend to be on the quiet side, letting others take the limelight, while relishing in my achievements. I don't like the fanfare of being the center of attention. But it's easy for me to watch someone get up and speak, taking charge of the crowd, and wish I was just a little more like that. Would people think more of me? Is that more attractive? Wish I could sing like that, but I can't carry a tune in a bucket.

After a while of not realizing the personal dreams we long for, it's easy to start thinking about making changes. Okay, must be me, I'm just not getting any where, and look at ole Joe, everything just seems to fall in place for him.

What works for Joe may not work for me. Plus, after a time, as I reach a more "mature" point in my life, I see that Joe may not be as happy as it had seemed. We've all seen examples. Maybe Joe can't keep a marriage together, and his health is not good from all the habits. But all I can see is the flashy car and successful business, and above all, the personality. Charm and charisma. Or whatever things I don't have.

The things that seem so easy and obvious to me are impossible for Joe to handle without help.

Our unique gifts will make room for themselves, if we nourish them and allow growth. For every "A" personality that comes by and doesn't understand me, or at least in my narrow visibility it appears that way, someone is out there that understands and gets me. We all need both types in our lives, at least I do. I am finally reaching the point that I know I will never be the outspoken one, the leader who drives the masses, the life of the party. But my unique, special gifts have a place, and here's a news flash for those of you that are maybe a little younger, struggling with acceptance: you're admired by someone just the way you are, and as you meet people during your journey through life, even more will come by and touch your life, then be touched.

Don't try to change and be someone you aren't; you can only fake it for so long, and in the meantime, your special friend-to-be may walk by while you're in your own personal turmoil, and not even notice you. The one that will appreciate you just the way you were made, and no other way will do. And this goes for everyone, not just people like me (if there are any like me....)

Being yourself is more fun anyway. And more satisfying as well. And who can do it better than you?

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Season to Reflect

Spring time. My favorite time of the year, just edging out summer. I've always lived in the south, and while I love the history and beauty of the northeast, I'm not one who would adapt well to grabbing a snow shovel in the AM so I could get out of the driveway. Warm weather rules.

With that said, a lot has happened in the springtime for me personally. My three kids celebrate birthdays in April, May, and June. This year I will have three teenagers at the same time (13,14,19 years old respectively,) and I'm not even stressed, they're all good kids. 21 years ago this Wednesday on April 7th I was married to Susie, and through all the trials of life that hit everyone, we're still clicking along in 2010. I know anniversary cards are meant to be a very personal, heartfelt note between a couple, but I thought I would share what we each wrote this year. I believe a couple that sets a good example inspires others. Remember, the kids are watching and listening in. With that said, here is my card first:


I guess in addition to my suspense novel and the children's books I have planned, I could write a love story based on personal experience. This one would include not only a couple that loves each other for years, but a couple that sticks together through many good times , along with a season or two that's as trying as it gets. You never thought of bailing out for greener pastures, and neither did I. That isn't even a thought for us; we were placed together and nothing can break that bond.

Our kids know mom and dad will always be there, unchanged, through thick and thin. That's part of the reason they're as they are. We're giving them an example of what to expect when they go to get married, so we're actually inspiring generations to come.

I still enjoy the spontaneity when we can break away and be by ourselves. You are quite a blessing, and a great reward for coming to church with you in '88. You are a fine, Godly example to our kids and to others. I can't imagine where I would be today without you, the church, and our wonderful kids. It would make an inspiring book. And to think it isn't even finished yet. How exciting!

I love you very much, and I thank you for putting up with my quirky ideas, especially when they go bad.


I like the last paragraph pre-written on the card I gave Susie:

I love being with you
where we are today,
together writing the pages
we'll remember tomorrow

And now Susie's card to me:

Dear Craig,

I love you very much. You have been a wonderful husband. You are everything I could ever want. You are very handsome, smart, and extremely motivated. You're perfect in every way. God has truly blessed me. You make my life complete. Sometimes I take you for granted, but I am truly thankful for you. I love you with all my heart. I know you will always be there for me. You give me balance. I want to be a good wife to you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. You are so sweet and caring, Happy 21st Anniversary!

Love Always,


I like this line, pre-printed in the card:

As time goes by,
the really important things in life
grow stronger,
more meaningful, and even more precious.....

I know a bad relationship can be beyond anything imaginable, but so can a good one. Once you reach your 21st anniversary and you can say "I would do it all over again,"
you've both done something right. Listen, sacrifice, share, care.

So, back to Spring. For me it's a season of beginnings in many ways. The flowers blooming (I'll even take the pollen,)everything coming alive, and a fresh start, once per year. Forget New Year's, all the trees are still dead and life is dormant. Like it is in the sports world, opening day of Spring offers hope, at least for a season, if you don't let it pass you by. Predictable and always on time, it comes once per year, both symbolically (for me) and in the natural as well.

My three kids are all young enough to think they have all the time necessary to build a life, and nothing is impossible. That's how the springtime affects me as well. "Why not try this....." "If they can do it, I can too." I'm a little more in sync than they are with the fact that time doesn't last forever on earth for any of us, but I still have my dreams and crazy ideas, some of which will happen.

At the same time, I am learning how to enjoy the simple day in, day out time with family and friends; we all have a certain number of springs, and the stories created last a lifetime. I want to look back with good memories, not regret. While the kids are still young; I only have a few more springs left before they're writing their own books of life. I guess our job is to help them with the first chapter then get out of the way. It's kind of sad, but exciting to think of what they'll accomplish. At least I'll always have the memory of carrying Robbie, him sound asleep on my shoulder, across the front of the church during a prayer meeting. Or the girls coming over and tucking me and Susie in bed, giving us both a hug and a kiss, telling us "I love you."


Sunday, March 28, 2010

Matchbox Revenge

Marcy Jerrigan had quite a knack for speaking her mind, judging from the life story she had managed to write so far.
“What a hag, how positively rude….”

Marcy slammed on her brakes, the rear wheels losing their grip as a putrid cloud poured in the driver’s side window. The smell of burning rubber overpowered her Design perfume.

Nothing like idiots to top off a lovely day……

The other driver glanced in Marcy’s direction, a caustic smile forming, a wink of the eye. She never stopped, driving on with a fluid motion. A seasoned driver if there ever was one, Marcy thought.

Her anger management classes never seemed to prepare her for reality. After her marriage, or what was nearly a marriage had fallen apart for her, a two year cycle of disastrous relationships followed, leaving her a bundle of frustration, and at times envious of her sister Jan. The one who always seems so happy, the perfect little housewife. Oh, the boredom of it all.

As she sat at the traffic light, seething, a sudden motion caught Marcy’s eye. Glancing toward the other driver, nonchalantly so as to not make her think she was looking, a wicked smile greeted her,then the other driver accented it a quick wink. She puckered up and blew Marcy a kiss, and threw her head back in laughter. The twisted, sarcastic expression she had on her face was enough to make steam come out of Marcy’s ears.

Marcy’s face was convulsing by now, sweat pouring off her forehead, the wrinkles forming deep lines from one side to the other. If only looks could kill……
The skin on her face drew back, a deep shade of red taking over her pale complexion. The anger management classes had worn off. She watched the other driver pull into the grocery store parking lot.

Light streamed in through the side window, highlighted a sparsely appointed control panel. A control lever, four buttons, and a small but detailed high resolution screen. Looking out the wraparound windshield, Metropolis Boulevard looked like a line drawn in the sand, directly below her. “Wow, much less traffic up here.”

Her new ride hovered well above the road below, making the cars look more like Matchboxes.

Marcy ran her hand across the four buttons, wondering. Pushing the green button to the far left, the screen lit up, giving a bird’s eye view of the action below. She discovered the button also contained a swivel, which allowed her to move her view top to bottom and side to side. Pushing down, the telescopic zoom moved in with a clarity and precision that made it feel like she was about to crash into the subject below. “Cool….”

Moving in close enough to see the rust marks on the top of the moving company’s truck through the cross hairs on her monitor (“Looks like I’m looking through a periscope.”), she reached over and pushed the red button. A slight mist, or at least that’s what she thought she saw, and the truck vanished. Marcy sat back in amazement for a moment, then smiled wryly.

“I wonder if the blue button is detonation…...” She pushed the third button and nothing happened.

“Hmmmmm……….must be broke.”

The orange button did nothing obvious, but a click sounded from below the panel.

“Need to learn how to use this thing.”

Grabbing the stick to her left, Marcy found she could steer the device by moving the control lever in different directions, like a joystick.

She was seeing Johnston in a different light. From high above she could see everything.

Zeroing in on the intersection of Metropolis and Rosston, the traffic light turned yellow, with heavy traffic on both sides. A young lady in the left lane slowed to stop, and the car behind her abruptly swung around her, cutting off another car, and blew through the intersection, running a red light in the process. Marcy looked at the monitor and mumbled, “Idiot.”

Focusing in with the green button, she discovered once a vehicle was locked in, an automatic tracking system took over and kept the target in its sight. Pushing the red button, the car vanished.

Hmmm……This is too easy.

Payback time. Guess some folks never learn. Well, it’s their day of reckoning, I’ve just gotta find ‘em. Come out, come out, wherever you are, darlings……

Flying south towards Miller Park, Marcy kept the zoom in high power mode, to scan for people of interest. She pulled back on the control lever to slow down, seeing a pretty young lady walking down the sidewalk, a dog on the leash. An older man, probably in his sixties from a glance, turned and watched her walk by, following every movement, his eyes scanning the full gamut of her young figure. Marcy pulled the trigger. Funny, nobody even notices these people when they disappear. They just walk right on through where he was standing.

The small downtown area was full of activity, with only a few weeks left of shopping. Temps were crisp but bearable, and the trees, for the most part, had already shed their leaves for the season. Tinsel and lights painted the town’s restored street lamps, the feeling of nostalgia permeating the senses. Marcy pulled back on the zoom, taking in the festive scene, enjoying the view. Scanning the busy intersection ahead, she saw nothing of interest, only festive shoppers behaving themselves. Then something caught her eye.

In the coffee shop ahead, window table, next to the door. Matt Sturges. That worthless…………And he sure didn’t waste any time, he’s already got him a hottie sitting next to him. Guess he didn’t have to wait after he dumped me, greener pastures and all that jazz. It’s only been a week, sure seems like longer. Oh well. I wonder….if I zap them one at a time, maybe they won’t find each other wherever they end up. Actually, they deserve each other’s company. Bye bye-

As she watched, an older couple sat down at the now empty table, smiling, enjoying the light snow falling outside, now mingling with the lights.

Marcy got a smug look on her face, one that could be taken as wicked, and turned west bound. Flying high and keeping the zoom set high, she hovered over a large split level house then zoomed in on the mailbox.


She recognized the BMW in the driveway, then zeroed in on the house. I wonder if this thing works on something this big? Hitting the red button with her fist, the house vanished, leaving the car sitting abandoned in the driveway. She zoomed in on the car, and touched the orange button, out of curiosity. The car vanished, but a much smaller Matchbox size version popped out of a compartment below the console, like a vending machine. Marcy smiled and examined the toy, and saw miniature papers and a briefcase in the back, along with a tiny umbrella on the passenger seat.

“It’s his car! I can’t believe the luck!”

Looking back down at the empty lot, she said, “He should have left me the house.”

The sun was shining again, as if on cue. Marcy raised her hands up in victory; Life is good.

She headed over toward the mall, hoping she could park her new ride close to the doors. Scanning the parking lot, she got a birds eye view of something she loved dearly. A prime parking spot was opening up, right up front. Pulling in the zoom, she watched and waited.

There she goes, she saw it. Oops, there’s another one. This should be good……

A young lady in a VW turned up the next aisle over, driving through a shopping cart left out in the drive area, then cut into the aisle with the vacant spot. Like a cat sneaking around the corner, ready to pounce.

I can’t believe she’s worried about going the right way. And that shopping cart…..she’s worse than I ever thought of.

A lady in a van saw the spot, turning up the wrong aisle, then in the parking spot sideways, amid a fury of horn blowing and shouting.

Should I wait until the fighting is over?

The young lady pulled up behind the van, parked her car inches away, and turned off the engine. Marcy, zooming in, saw a smile creep across her face, then a slight smirk. She started to open the door of the VW-

Not so fast.

Marcy pushed the first button. She smiled and said, “Loser” as the VW vanished.

Out of the corner of her eye, a guy driving a Civic drove slowly down the next aisle over, slowing as he passed a couple of open spots, then he pulled in a spot at the back of the lot. She aimed, then pushed the button twice, just to make sure. Looking at her screen, a note popped up at the bottom right hand corner: Level 3 Enlightened
“Cool, a scorecard.”

Following the main road back toward her apartment, she zeroed in on a red Toyota sedan, driving way slow.

“They’re gonna wreck, I can’t believe it.”

The guy on the cell phone never saw the truck turning in front of him. With no time to waste, she aimed and fired.

Oops, wrong vehicle. Marcy leaned back and cackled as the truck ceased to exist. At least the wreck had been avoided.
Following the Toyota, she marveled at the fact he never noticed the truck, never stopped talking, and was oblivious to the world.

He’s fixing to be oblivious….Ready, aim, fire.

Marcy pushed the second button by mistake. A grinding sound came up from below the control panel, and a compartment opened up directly below her. She reached in and picked up a Matchbox size truck, just like the one she had zapped. She took a closer look, peering in the driver’s side window. The driver was gone, but she could barely make out a small purse on the passenger seat, and an old tire in the back. She pulled her glasses down, straining to see, but unable to see any more details.

I hate being forty Can’t read a thing.

Marcy noticed a drip come from the bottom of her new toy.

Oil leak? You’ve got to be kidding me. This is the truck I zapped!

Looking out the side window, enjoying the sunshine starting to peek through, she remembered.

Marcy’s left eyebrow arched, she crinkled her forehead, and smiled. Her eyes were gleaming and starting to glass over.

“Oh yes.”

As she approached the grocery store parking lot, she said, “I hope she’s doing her shopping for a week. I’ll never find her if she’s already left.”
Scanning the parking lot, first from afar and then zoomed in, she saw her. Unmistakable. Coming out the front door, pushing a cart overflowing with groceries, smiling.

I think it would be more fun to land this thing and just jack slap her. Or I could hit the second button and use her for a pin cushion. Ahhhh, decisions…..Naaa, I don’t want to have to look at her any more……. Bye bye, baby.

She locked in the zoom, the pushed the button. The grocery cart disappeared as well.

Marcy laughed as she turned east, while increasing in altitude for a better look of the city. A red Corvette passed underneath, driving well over the speed limit.

Always wanted one on my dresser.

She zeroed in and pushed the orange button. The Matchbox dropped out of the drawer under the control panel, and Marcy examined the car, admiring the sleek lines.

Smells like alcohol…..

I think it’s time to start a car collection. Let’s see, where to start…..

“I think I’ll have that Lexus , and how about a Mustang, oh, let’s make that a convertible. Love the Spyder up ahead too; maybe the guy driving it will come up here and help me drive. And there’s a motor home. Wonder if it’ll fit in the compartment? Maybe it shrinks to the same size as the cars, not to scale. There’s a yellow Hummer, nice. Where’s a Viper when you need one? And a Porsche, a few more convertibles for sunny days, and…….”

A red Beetle convertible pulled out on the thoroughfare, the driver a pretty blonde twenty something, nice tan, beautiful even from a distance.
She disappeared almost as quick as Marcy saw her. She looked down and got a serious look on her face.

“Need an undo button.” She hit the blue button again, with no response.

Driving down Metropolis, Marcy glanced out her driver’s window as she hit the brakes, slowing for a traffic light. She smiled and sipped from her water bottle, enjoying the festive holiday decorations. She glanced upwards, still keeping an eye on the road, but looking all the same.

“Coast is clear. No traffic controllers flying tonight.”

Her mood enlightened, Marcy smiled at the bicycle rider who rode in the right lane, slowing her to a crawl. She calmly eased around him when oncoming traffic passed. A red Civic pulled up behind her driving much faster than she, then pulled in the next lane before whipping in front of her, with barely a bumper length to spare.

“Hmmmm……must be running late. Wonder if the girl’s in labor?”

Marcy pulled up beside a BMW, looking over at the familiar color.

Bill Jerrigan….I thought I zapped him into a new time zone..

A young, twenty something girl smiled and waved, and Bill looked over Marcy’s way and smiled. Marcy shook her head and laughed, saying “I knew it was too good to last…”

Her peaceful, serene drive was shattered by a blaring horn, in close proximity, judging from the loudness. Marcy jerked the car back into the right lane, amidst the screaming of her fellow driver. Looking over with mild interest, Marcy said, “What’s her problem?”

Hmmm…..You know, if I ever figure out how to build that device I’ll be very wealthy, but I’d surely end up blown off the map. Have to go into hiding; I know I’d be on a few people’s list……

Sitting at a traffic light, something caught her attention. She reached down in the floorboard, picking up a Matchbox size truck. She held it close, looking in the toy’s driver side window.

As the first horn sounded behind her, Marcy smiled. The green reflection off the traffic light spread across her windshield.

I think they'll look good sitting on my dresser.........

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Finding Innovation Inspiration, by Darcy Eikenberg

Finding Innovation Inspiration - By Darcy Eikenberg

Let's pause for a moment to celebrate three unique innovators who died this year: Curtis Allina, Art Clokey, and Walter Morrison.

What--you haven't heard of them? I bet you know their creations well: Pez, Gumby, and Frisbee.

I dare you not to grin when saying those three words! Pez, Gumby, and Frisbee collectively represent fun, silliness, play, and many more happy emotions we want in our lives today.

When each of these gentlemen's obituaries appeared within a month of each other, it made me pause. What lessons did their innovations teach? As I strive to be more creative and innovative, what inspiration can I take from their journeys? After exploring their lives and legacies further, here are the top three things I discovered:

1. Great Innovation Can Happen Even if Life's Hard
You'd think that if you were a master of something as creative, as inventive, as FUN as any of these three playthings, that you probably lived a charmed life. But that was far from the truth:

• Clokey was sent to live in a children's home when his mom's new husband rejected him after his natural father died in a car accident.

• Allina's family perished in concentration camps in the 40s, leaving him as the sole survivor.

• Morrison, a WWII pilot, was shot down and spent 48 days as a prisoner of war in Stalag 13.

Those setbacks didn't get in their way--in fact, they may have led to even greater creativity and innovation. For example, Morrison's aeronautic skills helped him refine his original flying disc. The abandoned Clokey was eventually adopted by a well-known composer who introduced him to an artistic life that certainly led him to pick up a handful of clay.

2. Accept Whatever Comes
Gumby's 1956 debut on "The Howdy Doody Show" led the stop-motion character to his own short-lived series and ongoing syndication. But his popularity faded in the 70's, and creator Clokey struggled financially, according to published accounts.

Then a young comedian named Eddie Murphy played a foul-talking Gumby on Saturday Night Live in the 80's. Many expected Clokey--the man who created TV's religious-toned "Davey and Goliath" and who once planned to become an Episcopal priest--to be shocked and ashamed at how his creation was mangled.

But according to interviews, he loved it, although he was happy it was on late at night when children were sleeping (remember, this was the pre-TiVo era.) By accepting someone else's interpretation and going with the affectionate outpouring, the edgy performance rejuvenated Gumby, and put the green guy in the hands of a whole new generation.

3. You Don't Have to Create to be Creative
Pez was originally a Viennese mint, marketed to adults as an alternative to smoking. In fact, the stemmed dispenser was designed to look like a cigarette lighter. When the idea emerged to repackage the candy for children, company exec Allina had to persuade the conservative, European home office that the change would make sense.

Pez historian (now there's a job!) David Welch told The New York Times that no one really knows exactly whose idea it was to put heads on Pez dispensers. However, Welch shared, "The idea came from the United States. And for the idea to have come out of the United States and made it to Austria where it could be approved, Allina was the only guy who could have made that happen."

So whether Allina actually envisioned a Santa head on a stack of peppermints, we'll never know. But he was the one to enable the creative move, to actually make it happen, and in the end, is credited with making the now multi-million dollar industry come to life. Not a bad legacy.

Speaking of legacy, it is worth noting one other thing these three men had in common. They all lived long lives: Pez's Allina passed away at 87. Gumby animator Clokey died at 88; and Morrison, Frisbee's father, died at 90. They left behind not only their respective innovations, but also buckets of inspiration for the creative spirit in all of us.

Where do you find your innovation inspiration--at work, outdoors, or at home in your garage? From music, TV, or a stroll through the mall? Who inspires you most--people you know well, or people you've only known from afar?

** To comment on this article or to read comments about this article,
go here.

About the Author:

Darcy Eikenberg, ACC, is an accomplished coach, consultant and business leader, with experience motivating individual and team behavior to achieve business results. Her focus is coaching and mentoring aspiring individuals and professionals/teams needing guidance and support. Before founding Coach Darcy LLC, Darcy was Principal, Internal Coach, and Senior Communication Consultant at Hewitt Associates. Darcy is VP, Marketing for the Georgia Coach Association and a graduate of Northwestern University.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Laughter Behind the Tears

I still remember that first encounter in June of 2003. I was told up front, before we ever reached the duplex I was looking at to purchase, that the seller’s agent should speak to Judith, that she doesn’t like talking to strangers. My first investment property. A new experience for sure, but I had no idea what I would be dealing with people wise.

As I walked through the three room shotgun home, an old mill house built in the 1920’s, Judith stood in the corner, quiet, her arms pulled upward like a frightened child. I did not speak, but I made eye contact and nodded. She recoiled.

I purchased that first property, and I inherited two sets of tenants that had issues, some of which were not of their own doings. A state run agency helped them to live on their own by taking their disability checks and paying bills first (including rent and utilities,) then giving the sparse remainder to the tenant.
Judith turned out to be one of the warmest hearted people I have crossed paths with, but with an exterior as rough as I have encountered. She had spent time in jail for beating a man so bad he nearly died. Something about him making a move on her. The crusty ‘ole shell was effective enough; it kept out what she desperately wanted to avoid- anyone that could hurt her, and that covered pretty much everyone. A nearly impenetrable façade that blocked at friendships at all costs, for fear of rejection.

Over time she took a liking to me, in large part because I spoke to her like an equal, as though she was worth something. I heard this theme from several of my tenants in the old mill town, over the next few years; no one else had ever treated them like they were worth something. As though they were human and worthy of being on the planet.

The neighbors always smiled and shook their heads, talking about that crazy lady. “Somebody’s gonna end up killing her, with that big mouth of hers.” Everyone knew Judith, for better or for worse. She did, as I found over time, have a few old friends who watched after her. Her precious few insiders shared a common thread. They all thought Judith was a wonderful, caring person who had lived a tough life. What brings a person to this point of no hope for a better life?
Judith would call me at times, just to talk. I would not hear from her for weeks at a time, a result of her medication and mood swings. The conversations seemed to help her to cope with life, and release some of her overwhelming anger, without spewing it out on someone else. She was loud, and at times full of venom she could not seem to contain. She got mad and punched her hand through a window at the apartment one day. I can’t remember all the times the police came out, either because she called them or someone called because of her.

Judith was a brutally honest as anyone I have ever met, both in her opinions and in dealing with others. She never backed down from anyone, and I believe she could have decked any man, any time if she took a notion. At the same time, if she was walking behind her worst enemy, someone she despised, and the person dropped a ten dollar bill, Judith would have run him down to return it. She was just that way; honest to a fault, to the point she sometimes had no money for food because she gave it away. She couldn’t stand to see someone go without, and she was taken advantage of at times.
People like this seem to be an easy target for predators and control freaks.

After Judith reached a point in her life where she could not live alone, someone new moved in, a month after Judith moved to a place where she could have a roommate and more constant care.

At first, it seemed my investment in Tara would cost less time, although I didn’t mind the conversations with Judith. Tara seemed normal at first, I suppose because she took her medication as described. By the time the schizophrenia was more obvious, she had started mixing illegal drugs and booze with the prescription meds, and all predictability went out the window. When Anna Nicole Smith died in 2007, Tara decided to change her appearance as a tribute to the Hollywood star. I drove by one day and saw a bleach blonde; she was wearing eveningwear that looked like it had been painted on. On the front porch of course. She also “idolized” the 80’s pop star Billy Idol. Just before her oppressive boyfriend made arrangements to move her out, she reached a point that she thought Elvis lived in the attic of her apartment. What events in her life led up to this point? I recall the last interaction I had with her, a message I received-

hey craig,,,i am so glad to hear from you,,,yes i am in the area.if you read my profiel i see the future and can do things like i know its a sin but talk to the dead,,i never let noone close to me who meet me know,,,they dont understand,amen.but i would love to do you a reading,,lets see,,i see an older women whos been in your life your grandmother i beleve.she wore dresses and had grey hair and loved church.amen she showes me a yellow you understand a yellow rose,,,only you and her would know this amen,shes showing me a piece of wood,like a 2 bye 4 but old wood,amen..she showing me a hammer,,,,,are you remolding,,,do you understand what shes try ing to tell are say,she showing me a little blond haired girl about 2 or 5 yrs old,amen,,,,her hair is in a pony tail,,long blond,buetyful child,amen shes pointing out easter to me,,,colorful eggs,she sayys she loves you..amendid you ever fix her hair,she showes me you fixing her hair .when she was younger she had dark hair buetyful women amen,her age in heaven is about 24 and thin and in perfect health,,,she points out to me her heart was a problem when she was alive,,,now its perfect,amen she says you are found of rainbows amen...shes showing me a red rose for love,amen and a bush in front of a home,on the left hand side,,,i do beleve this is where she lived,amen.this bush you remeber,she said...........i know this all sounds strange but i gagttta find friends who know the real me your the first i have opened up to.beside billy idol.i tried to be the next sylia brown thru him,,,but instead i failed,so i am out here ,trying to be exsepted as who i am your my new friend who knowes my secret within,,,i talk to the still like me,?i admired you alot,you made me nervious and felt like a child with a crush

She craved someone in her life that would accept her, just like she was. She longed for acceptance, just like so many others in the area. People looking for a new start, but without changing the old habits that put them there in the first place. Or unable to shake the skeletons in their respective closets long enough for a new beginning. Like Judith, Tara was addicted to smoking and other habits that she took to the extreme. She was wide open to predators coming in her life, the ones faking affection to get what they wanted.

One common thread with both Judith and Tara was this: they cherished time spent with them more than having things. They craved the chance to belong, to be cared for. Something they missed out on growing up. The old, worn down mill town was full of the affects of broken homes, abuse, missing love. And the effects of living there still makes it that much tougher to get out.

Another person that touched my life was Peggy. She passed away of a heart attack a couple of months ago, and I did not know until after the funeral. Her kids were jealous of me I think; she thought so highly of me. I did get a call after the fact, letting me know she was cremated and the remains released somewhere in Alabama.
She seemed to have her own guardian angel at times, a reward for a very kind heart. She had nothing bad to say about anyone unless they gave her a good reason.
Twice a year, Peggy went through a couple of weeks of depression and crying spells; the anniversary of her husband’s death and his birthday. She still considered herself married all the years after his unexpected death, and she never forgot, never stopped mourning. She was truly a warm hearted soul, who like the others, craved time spent with people she truly cared about.

I always went out and collected rent from Peggy in person, and had a conversation with her. We either sat on a chair on the front porch, or during cold snaps or on the occasion she could not get up, we would sit in the living room, where she sometimes slept. She always talked about things important in her life, which meant I heard about people. Her son in Florida, the daughter who lived with her, her husband of so many years. A picture of her husband always sat in the room, along with family photos. She asked me once to do some photos of her and her daughter/grandkids, but she never could get everyone together at the same time when I could be there. I’ll always regret that.

Pictures and stories, they’re so valuable. I’m writing down the many stories I collected from the old mill town, but no one let me take photos. I’ll bet they had trouble looking in the mirror as well.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Fear Factor

My throat was dry before I ever uttered the first word. You see, fear has a way of taking over every thread of normalcy, a dread far worse than the worst outcome you can imagine. My fear began with a simple statement: “Sure, I’ll speak on Tuesday.”
Now what can happen that is so bad? Let me start from the beginning.

First things first, gotta make it to the podium without falling, and that’s no easy task, believe me. Three steps up, all requiring perfect precision. One misstep, and life as I know it will be over. On my face, amid throws of laughter, can’t let on that my back hurts. Or worse. Maybe I could joke my way out of it. “Hey, I meant to do that.” Problem is, my mind is so blank I can’t even remember my name. Good thing I brought notes to read. And just in case, my name is printed at the top of each page. What if I forgot something?
Now the first thing I notice, as I pick up the microphone and face my doubters, is something really annoying…..everyone is staring at me. Something wrong? You never saw somebody up here before? Okay, no problem. They’re gonna stare, it’s a given. So what am I gonna do? Let’s see…I could turn around, sit in a chair, and give my 12 minute speech that way. No problem, ‘cept my wife and her best friend are on row 2. Throwing distance for sure, and maybe “sneaking up on me and tickling me” distance. Now they’re both great supporters of what I’m doing, don’t get me wrong. But if I turn my back, anything goes. If I’m lucky, they’ll just throw something at me. Maybe paper wads. Or hold up a funny sign and take a picture. But deep in my heart, or maybe in the pit of my stomach, I figure they’ll come up and start tickling me. I won’t even know they’re coming until I squeal at the top of my lungs, microphone still pressed to my lips. Not a pretty sound, I assure you. She isn’t even ticklish, it isn’t fair. Makes me want to wrap my arms around my ribcage just thinking about it. And now, oh boy, I remember the game…..My youngest daughter taught me this one. I had to get at the deep end of the pool and start calling out colors. She was at the other end of the pool. When I called out the color she had chosen, the hunt began. Silently, slowly at first, like a cat slinking through the brush, getting ready to pounce. She started swimming towards me, the object of the game to reach me before I heard her and turned around. Think it was called “Torture Dad,” or something like that. So I’m wringing my hands, not even knowing why I keep calling out colors for the seventh time, I know she’s on her way. Ready to grab me by the back of the neck and pull me under. Not that she would try to drown her dad, but things do happen, I hear. I’ll say something funny, just to make her laugh. Just so I’ll hear her before it’s too late.
No, turning around is not an option. I have to stay focused.
Okay, might as well face my aggressors. Not much choice. You know, as I stand here at the podium, trying to be so calm and collected, something could come up from the back. I’ll just take a quick glance. Yep, there he is. Back there on the grassy knoll. I hear there’s somebody there. Matter of fact, I hear there may be two. You just never know. It’s what I hear, anyway. Don’t know who they are, it’s just what I hear.

What is this debilitating thing called fear?
Webster’s says it’s an unpleasant and often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
I say it’s being scared out of your wits, even if you know there is really nothing to worry about.
Terror is an advanced form of fear. It’s when you’ve graduated grammar school and made the big time. Everything quits working. This where you don’t want to start laughing because you may not be able to stop. All self control is gone at this point. Paranoia sets in and all rational thoughts are thrown out the window. Basically, you’re along for the ride.
Here are a few quotes I’ve come across:
"The only thing we have to fear is fear it'self - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
---- FDR - First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear."
--- H.P. Lovecraft

"A man who has been in danger,
When he comes out of it forgets his fears,
And sometimes he forgets his promises."
---- Euripides - Iphigenia in Tauris (414-12 BC)

Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it."
---- Lt. John B. Putnam Jr. (1921-1944)

"Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is."
---- German Proverb

"Sometimes the biggest thing separating us from our inspiration is fear."
----Samantha Brown

And my favorite, one that is the mantra of so many-
The cartoon character Charlie Brown once said "I've developed a new philosophy... I only dread one day at a time."

The poster child for fear is Charlie Brown. Let’s face it, he couldn’t do anything right. When he walked to the pitcher’s mound, everyone knew he’d get decked by a line drive. And who always strikes out to end the game? Fly a kite? He’ll end up in a tangled mess, hopelessly tied up on the ground, just in time for Lucy to come by and let him have it. And let him pick the Christmas tree? Yeah, right. I don’t suppose he ever once woke up thinking he was a success. Don’t you wish just once he could have been a winner? All it would have taken was an encouraging word at the right time, a little luck on occasion, a mentor. Could have changed the whole story. But I wonder if the comic strip would have lost some readers; too many people sympathize with Charlie Brown. The poor ole down ‘n outer that he is, does it make you smile when you hear his name?

More words of wisdom from Charlie Brown:

Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, 'Where have I gone wrong?' Then a voice says to me, 'This is going to take more than one night.'”

“It always looks darkest just before it gets totally black.”

“If I stand here, I can see the Little Red Haired girl when she comes out of her house... Of course, if she sees me peeking around this tree, she`ll think I`m the dumbest person in the world... But if I don`t peek around the tree, I`ll never see her... Which means I probably AM the dumbest person in the world... which explains why I`m standing in a batch of poison oak.”

A small amount of fear before an important speech serves a purpose – it encourages you to focus on your topic and avoid making a fool of yourself. However, some types of fear make you feel like escaping when it is not appropriate to do so.

No two people are alike, and we all have unique abilities to achieve greatness. Following someone else’s blueprint (comparing yourself to them) will cause feelings of inadequacy, and lead to your ignoring your own potential for achievement. This leads to fear that will hold you back from what only you are uniquely capable of doing. Be yourself, don’t pattern solely after others. Don’t feel unworthy when talented people come around, pull ideas from their skills to improve yourself.

We are born with only two fears, and they are for survival: a fear of falling and of loud noises. Everything else is learned. The good news is we can unlearn these fears.
There are three types to consider: External fears (fear of spiders, fear of flying,) Internal fears (low self esteem,) and Subconscious fears (self sabotage, feeling unworthy, fear of failure or success.)

My forty five minute discussion went okay, and in the end I believe it helped a few people. As is always the case, my fears never came to fruition. I felt a sense of accomplishment, like completing a long, tedious project that leaves you with a sense of satisfaction after it’s over. It’s good, at the end of the day, to say “I did it.”
What was I so afraid of?