I Have More Important Things to Worry About

My husband claims if I don’t have something legitimate to worry about, I’ll make something up. And as much as I hate to admit it, this is one of those very rare, exceedingly annoying instances when he is right.

“You worry too much! Everything will work out! And even if it doesn’t, your worrying about it isn’t going to change anything–so just stop it!”

Yeah, okay. I’ve been a champion worrier for half a century, but since you’ve now told me to stop approximately 17,587 times, I will. Yep, just like that. I’ll crinkle my nose, click my heels, cross my arms and blink my eyes, and all my worries will magically disappear.

I wish.

Some of my concerns are valid ones (in my opinion), based on consuming (some might say obsessive) love for my family and friends and previous run-ins and near-misses with disaster. So I lie awake at night not only replaying previous terrors but also imagining countless worst-case scenarios that will most likely, almost definitely, never happen. But there’s still a chance . . .

Even worse, though, are all those worries I “invent” when the more pressing ones are taking a momentary breather. I can’t help myself. (“Yes, you can,” says smarty pants spouse.) What if there’s a copperhead lurking underneath all those leaves between the back door and the car? What if global warming is real? What if pesticides finally kill off all the monarch butterflies and honey bees–and what are those same pesticides doing to our food supply?  What if I unintentionally hurt someone with my words or actions? What if I get hit by a car while riding my bike? What if the stroke that claimed my mom’s life decides to victimize me as well–or even worse, what if the dementia that destroyed my dad decides my feeble brain is easy prey? What if those two guys in the driveway wanting to sell me frozen steaks really just wanted to find out who was home? What if the six-ounce chocolate chip cookie I just devoured converts overnight into ten pounds of wiggly, jiggly blubber around my already overcrowded middle?

You get the idea. (Heck, you might even know the drill.)

But despite my constant need to have something to fret over, there is one thing that has yet to register on my anxiety radar–and probably never will.

Ebola.

That’s right. Even though the media have been doing their usual, irresponsible best to generate a firestorm of fear and apprehension–with much of their leading “news” stories on the subject based on broad speculations and sweeping half-truths–I’m just not buying into the hysteria. Am I being naive? Maybe–but I doubt it. After all, these are the same people who, in the last decade, have also pushed the panic button on swine flu. And bird flu. And E. coli. And SARS and Anthrax and West Nile virus.

But, surprisingly, I’m still here.

Ebola is a horrific disease that has claimed thousands of lives and caused tremendous heartache in the tropical regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the lack of education and proper medical care contribute to the rapid spread of the disease. The first recognized outbreak of the Ebola virus was in 1976 in Zaire (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). In that outbreak, 318 persons were diagnosed with the disease, and 280 (88%) of them died. Since that time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than two dozen outbreaks of the disease, with almost all of those outbreaks small in number and located in isolated areas of Africa. In fact, during the entire 38-year recorded history of the disease, only two deaths have been reported as non-African in origin (both of those deaths due to laboratory contamination, both in Russia, one in 1996 and one in 2004).

The current Ebola outbreak is the largest in history. As of October 31, 2014, 13,540 cases of the disease had been confirmed in the West African countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with 4,941 of those cases (36.5%) resulting in death. Outside of those three countries, the CDC had confirmed 27 travel-related cases elsewhere, with 10 of those cases resulting in death–and none of those cases leading to a single death of the victims’ family members, friends or chance acquaintances.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the possibility for transmission isn’t there, but because the disease has been studied since 1976, we know that, with the proper precautions, transmission can be prevented with a few safety precautions. According to medical professionals and the CDC, Ebola is not spread through air or water but rather through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with

  • blood or body fluids (including urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola,
  • objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus,
  • or infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys).

Although some of my friends would like to convince me otherwise, I have no reason to believe that members of the medical community or the staff of the CDC are involved in some widespread government conspiracy to withhold information or generate misinformation. Seriously, what would be the point? And since I, as well as the overwhelming majority of Americans, have no intention of traveling to West Africa, have no intention of handling blood or body fluids of Ebola patients, and have no intention of handling or eating bushmeat, I feel safe in believing that fear is a much greater contagion and that most of us truly have more important things to worry about. I don’t disagree with logical precautions being taken, and if I were a healthcare provider, I would want assurance that my employer had up-to-date (and enforced) protocols in place for the diagnosis and treatment of Ebola (and all highly contagious diseases, for that matter), but for the rest of us . . .

So far, in 2014 one person–Thomas Eric Duncan–has died in the United States from Ebola, after traveling from Liberia already infected with the disease. Of the more than 40 people who had contact with Duncan before he was put in isolation, none contracted the virus. And the two nurses who did contract the virus from him during his hospitalization have since been cured. However, in 2011 alone, the CDC reported that

  • 596,577 Americans died from heart disease,
  • 576,691 Americans died from cancer,
  • 142,943 Americans died from chronic lower respiratory disease (including emphysema),
  • 128,932 Americans died from stroke,
  • 126,438 Americans died from accidents (including motor vehicle accidents),
  • 84,974 Americans died from Alzheimer’s disease,
  • 73,831 Americans died from diabetes, and
  • 53,826 Americans died from influenza and pneumonia.

Instead of allowing the media to alarm us over something that most of us have no reason to fear, perhaps we should be more concerned over our own complacency and negligence in dealing with the familiar, but still very real, threats to our well being. Sometimes disease is unavoidable, and death eventually takes us all, but most of us could do a much better job of protecting our health and prolonging our lives. Instead of worrying about the almost non-existent possibility of contracting the Ebola virus, maybe we should spend a little more time worrying about the junk food we gobble mindlessly, the hours we spend decaying on the couch, the bad habits we refuse to give up, the flu shots we refuse to get. (I’m guilty on all counts.)

There’s no doubt we live in a world fraught with dangers, some of them recognized and avoidable and some of them hard to see and beyond our control anyway. But we also live in a world of infinite beauty and joy and magic. If we allow our fear of the dangers to govern our actions and consume our thoughts, then we risk missing out on all the goodness that abounds. If we focus so much of our attention on our fear of dying, then we forget to live–and that may be the greatest tragedy of all.

Advice from this champion worrier? Let common sense be your guide . . . and move on. And that’s advice I intend to follow myself–just as soon as I polish off these cookies, check my blood pressure, and scan the driveway for copperheads.

Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

big springs cabin2
big springs tree
mingo 1

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Oh Yes, I Can’t

I’m convinced my husband was a motivational speaker in a previous life (maybe a not-so-successful one living in a van down by the river, but still . . . ). Verbal remnants of that previous vocation frequently pepper his conversation–especially when he’s trying to talk me into doing something I don’t think I can do.

Can’t never did anything,” he has told me repeatedly. And he frequently spouted the same sage advice to our three growing sons–with about the same degree of “Yeah, whatever” acknowledgment and the same number of behind-the-back eye rolls.

Can’t is for quitters.”

“You can’t do it–or you just don’t want to do it?”

“When you say you can’t, you’re telling your body and mind not to even try. You need to stop doing that–you can do anything you set your mind to!”

I may not always buy in to his psychobabble, but most of the time I still appreciate his efforts to cajole and encourage (harass) me–and occasionally his little pep talks even work their magic. But not always. For even though I want to believe I have Napoleon Dynamite skills and Wonder Woman powers that will allow me to do any dang thing I want, the truth is that I really don’t.

I can’t eat an entire jumbo bag of peanut butter M&Ms in one sitting, no matter how hard I try.

I can’t listen to the National Anthem without getting teary-eyed.

I can’t dunk a basketball. I can’t dribble one, either.

I can’t get George Clooney to return my phone calls, especially now that the Amal woman is screening them.

I can’t say “Worcestershire sauce.” I can spell it, define it, and drizzle it all over my chicken, but I can’t even come close to getting all those syllables to roll gracefully off my tongue.

I can’t become the Queen of England, and unless Prince Harry suddenly develops a hankering for short, chunky women almost twice his age, I probably can’t become a princess or duchess, either.

I can’t see the writing on the wall, especially if I’m standing more than two feet away.

I can’t harness the wind, calm the waves, or stop the rain. I can, however, quake the earth just by falling off my bike–roughly 2.3 on the Richter.

I can’t outrun a cheetah, a horse, or even an elephant, but I can zoom past a three-toed sloth like it’s standing still. Yeah, baby!

I can’t even think about a spoonful of mashed potatoes or white beans touching my lips without my gag reflex kicking into overdrive.

I can’t bench press a Buick, but I can leg press a refrigerator (and that’s almost the same thing).

I can’t remember the story I told you last year (hence my need to repeat it 15 times since then), but I can remember the story you told me–and I can’t understand why you keep telling me that same story over and over and over.

I can’t drive from Point A to Point B and then back to Point A without taking unintended detours to Points C, D, E, F and G.

I can’t lick my elbow or my ear, and I can’t scratch my head with my toes. (I’ve tried, but I can’t remember why.)

I can’t grow a measly six inches in height (not since the seventh grade, anyway), but mastering the same feat in circumference has been easy peasy (perhaps a little too much pudding ‘n’ pie?).

I can’t lasso a bear, ride a bull, tame a cougar, or make a rhino giggle. I can’t even get my old dog to quit passing gas when he’s lying at my feet.

I can’t remove my own appendix. Heck, I usually can’t even remove my own splinters.

I can’t make my sons call home on a regular basis no matter how many hints I drop, guilt trips I level, or telepathic commands I send flying through the troposphere.

I can’t make wrinkles dissipate, gray hairs vanish, or breasts retract to their place of origin.

I can’t play outfield for the St. Louis Cardinals (but I used to field fly balls in the back yard with my boys, and that was even better).

I can’t touch a stair railing, an elevator button or a gas pump handle without wondering if it has EVER been sanitized.

I can’t drive an 18-wheeler out of a parking space, a nail through a stud, or a golf ball in a straight line. I can, however, drive my family crazy just by pummeling them with a never-ending list of questions.

I can’t cut my own hair, rub my own back, or change my own flats.

I can’t shop in a business with misspelled words on its windows, and I can’t thoroughly enjoy an Adele song without being distracted by the unnecessary shifts in verb tense.

I can’t pirouette, salsa, or waltz–and I can’t shake my groove thing without dislocating at least half a dozen other things.

I can’t teleport myself backward or forward in time. If I could, I would cinch up my corset and work my hardest to get that handsome devil Rhett to ask, “Scarlett who?”

I can’t beat George Foreman, Hulk Hogan or Pee Wee Herman in an arm wrestling match. But if Pee Wee ever challenges me to a leg-wrestling contest, he’s going down.

I can’t convince North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to be nice, Russian president Vladimir Putin to smile, or politician Sarah Palin to stop talking.

Oh yes, that’s right, I can’t. My husband will argue that I’m unable to do a few of these things only because I’m not willing to try–and he may be right. But I can’t make myself want to try–and he can’t make me, either. (Apparently there’s a limit to Mr. Motivational’s abilities, too.)

What about you–is there anything you can’t do?

(Note: Thanks to my friend Charles for the inspiration to write this post. You can find his much funnier list here.)

One of the few things I can do is pick up my camera and pretend, at least for a little while, that nothing else exists beyond my viewfinder . . . 

sunflower-2

boat

st. peters flowers5

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fall10

Posted in Advice, Humor, Photography | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

It’s All a Matter of Perspective

When our boys were younger, our lives revolved around their busy schedules–which meant that family vacations usually amounted to little more than a weekend trip to Grandma’s house or an occasional excursion to an overcrowded amusement park. If we’d managed to save enough nickels and dimes throughout the year, we might even throw in a few educational pit stops along the way–science museums and art galleries and commercial caves that seldom held their interest but allowed us to feel as parents that we were doing a decent job of “broadening their horizons.” Sure, we would have liked to travel more with them, but the preparation before and the recovery after was exhausting, the backseat bickering was headache-inducing, and the cost of filling the bellies of three hungry boys on the road was roughly equivalent to the gross national product of Liechtenstein.

And so, most of the time, we stayed home. That is, “we” stayed home until our boys grew up, moved out, and started stocking their own refrigerators. It’s amazing how much cheaper two can travel than five, how little bickering takes place when it’s confined to the front seat, how much more enjoyable the preparation can be when it’s fueled by anticipation, and how much easier the recovery can be when thirty loads of leftover laundry are reduced to five.

My husband and I have come to the mind-blowing realization that we’re not getting any younger (I know, shocking, right?) and that now is a good time for traveling and exploring, now while we still have bladder control, now while we look old enough to get senior citizen discounts without our bodies actually feeling like we deserve them, and now while our combined memories are good enough to get us to where we want to go and help us find our way back home again. We still have to save our nickels and dimes (and dollars) to afford these occasional trips, but even the necessary scrimping becomes a fun part of the process when it slowly transcends into airfare and hotel accommodations.

Last year we were fortunate to join a group of friends on a 100-mile bicycling trip through the Florida Keys. The trip was the perfect mix of exercise, sightseeing, sunshine and laughter, and we had such a good time that immediately upon returning home (before he could forget) my husband started researching online for a different locale where we might have a similar experience. And that’s when he discovered Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Known for its pastoral beauty, its gently rolling hills, rocky red shores and dozens of bays and harbours, Prince Edward Island is a small Canadian province located north of Nova Scotia and east of New Brunswick. Even though it is the most densely populated province in Canada, it is still largely rural, and its economy is based mostly on agriculture, tourism and shellfish harvesting (oysters and mussels and lobsters–oh my!). Travel brochures refer to it as “The Gentle Island,” and cycling magazines rate its Confederation Trail as one of the best bicycle trails in the world.

It sounded perfect. And it was. Except . . .

When my husband contacted a bicycle shop there to set up a touring package for our group, his first questions were about the terrain and weather conditions: “Is it very hilly? And how windy is it?” Not at all, he was assured, on both counts. The highest elevation was only 466 feet above sea level, and that was on a part of the island we wouldn’t be riding anyway. And as for the wind, why, it wasn’t windy at all. That sounded almost too good to be true, so I contacted a blogging friend who happens to live on the island–and received similar information from him. And so the planning, the scrimping and the delighted anticipation began.

Have you ever asked a doctor if the shot he claims you need is going to hurt? “Not a bit,” he’ll respond, or if he’s feeling particularly forthcoming that day, “It might pinch just a little.” And then, as soon as you exhale a nervous sigh of relief, the nurse rams an acid-filled hypodermic the size of a cucumber through several layers of your skin, muscles and ligaments before lodging it in the anxiety-soaked leather cushion on the other side–and you suddenly realize that pain is relative, dependent entirely upon which side of the needle you’re on. It’s all a matter of perspective.

And yes, our biking trip to PEI was something like that. I couldn’t fault the bicycle shop, though, because all the staff there were experienced cyclists who were used to the terrain and the weather conditions, so of course it didn’t seem like a big deal to them. And I certainly couldn’t fault my friend Charles–how could he possibly know that the gentle breezes cooling the back of his neck while he was working in the yard would feel like hurricane-force winds in the face of a cyclist struggling to get up a steep incline?

I had no one to blame but myself–the High Priestess of Stubborn who failed to adequately train, thereby providing my husband with yet another opportunity to say “I told you so.” He had tried to get me to practice riding hills, but I didn’t want to–and I didn’t think I needed to. Applying the same uninformed, nonsensical thinking that last year allowed me to believe Key West was simply the southernmost tip of Florida (and not an island that would require this non-swimmer who’s afraid of the water to pedal across 42 bridges to get there), I let myself believe that an island couldn’t be that hilly or that an island–surrounded on all four sides by water–couldn’t be that windy. (Common sense has never been one of my stronger characteristics.) The cycling I did on the highways and back roads of Prince Edward Island during the first three days of our five-day, 150-mile ride (before we switched over to the trail) was the most challenging cycling I have ever done–and even so, it wasn’t that hard–but if I had known beforehand just how challenging it would be, I wouldn’t have wanted to go.

And that would have been a terrible mistake.

I would have missed out on some of the best food I’ve ever eaten–delicious halibut, haddock, and lobster rolls, scrumptious seafood chowder and melt-in-my-mouth wild blueberry pancakes better than any I’ve ever made at home (and mine are pretty darn good).

I would have missed out on some of the most breathtaking landscapes and seascapes I’ve ever seen. The roadside wildflowers, the wharf at Charlottetown, the dunes at Cavendish, the sun rising and setting at Montague, the rugged red coastlines, the many lighthouses dotting those coasts–even the travel brochures didn’t prepare me for and my own photos didn’t do justice to the beauty that awaited around every curve in the road.

I would have missed out on so many memories made with good friends, most of whom were struggling just as much as I was but still found countless reasons to laugh–reasons that will no doubt be repeated at gatherings for years to come (but that I’m smart enough not to repeat here).

I would have missed out on the opportunity to finally meet my blogging friend Charles (of mostlybrightideas fame) and his lovely wife Maria. We spent several delightful, relaxing hours enjoying their kind hospitality (a courtesy we hope to extend to them someday), touring the island and learning about their life there, and discovering that relationships between parents and sons are pretty much the same everywhere.

And I would have missed out on the tremendous sense of accomplishment I felt at the end of our journey. I crashed (only once), but since nothing was bloody or broken, I got up, pretended I was fine and pedaled on. I battled against 40-mile-an-hour wind gusts and labored up hills that seemed impossible from the bottom looking up–but I never stopped pedaling, astonishing my husband (who never broke a sweat) and discovering that a young, strong badass still resides within the body of this wimpy old woman (surprising, I know, but I swear it’s true). And I watched as other members of our group accomplished the same feats (apparently they’ve all got an inner badass, too).

I learned a few other things, too. I learned it was almost impossible to get a glass of iced tea (finally realizing I could order a kettle of hot tea and a glass of ice instead), but every waitress in every restaurant wanted to pour gravy over my fries (um, no, but can I have ranch dip?).  I learned retailers everywhere would gladly accept U.S. currency from strange-talking yahoos who were “from away,” even though no one could correctly identify where exactly “away” was. (“Georgia? Texas? Minnesota?” Really, Minnesota?) And I learned a new word–kerfuffle–that I’ve got to use in a future blog just because I love the way it sounds.

I learned I could survive and even mentally thrive without my daily dose of Facebook dramas and media-generated horror stories. For a few precious days, I was oblivious to the world beyond my handlebars, and my only concerns were checking the day’s predicted wind speeds and making sure I had enough ibuprofen to get me through. I may have been physically exhausted, but leaving the world’s worries in someone else’s care left my mind at ease–and I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in there.

And I learned, upon returning home, to look at the little world around me with new eyes. Do the people of Prince Edward Island appreciate how magnificent their little island is, or have they–like most of us–become immune to the beauty of their everyday surroundings? How often do we (and they) rush to work, rush to complete errands, rush home to dinner without ever truly seeing the charm and allure of our own locales? As a visitor to PEI, I was mesmerized by its exotic loveliness, but on the drive home from the airport I tried to see my Ozarks as a visitor might–emerald hills rolling on forever into the hazy distance, brilliant reds and oranges blazing on scattered dogwoods and maples, majestic bluffs lining lazy rivers, sunshine glittering on glassy lakes–and I was reminded that the familiar is no less beautiful.

I didn’t have time to do everything I wanted to do on our trip–I wanted to photograph the Confederation Bridge (an eight-mile bridge connecting PEI to New Brunswick), I wanted to attend a ceilidh performance of Gaelic folk dance and music, I wanted to spend more time with Charles and Maria, and I would have liked to venture into New Brunswick and Nova Scotia since I was already “in the area.” Regrets, yes–but all reasons perhaps to make a return visit someday.

And that’s the thing about traveling, isn’t it? As much as we love returning home to the comfort of our own beds and the familiarity of our regular routines, it doesn’t take long before wanderlust emerges anew. Once we’ve realized that traveling allows us to escape from everyday stressors while providing us with a wealth of life-altering experiences and stunning vistas, it’s hard to stay put for long.

Or, at least, it is for me. My dogs have forgiven me for abandoning them, I’m finally caught up on laundry, and I might get around to putting the suitcases back into storage today–but more importantly, I’m still smiling over the cherished memories created, and I’m already saving nickels and dimes (and dollars) for the next grand adventure.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”–Susan Sontag

sunset Montague final2

Sunset clouds over the Montague River at Montague . . . Montague is sometimes referred to as “Montague the Beautiful,” and I can certainly see why.

cavendish dunes

The dunes at Cavendish . . . The tall sand dunes are created by crashing waves and blowing winds and then stabilized by the roots of Marram grass, helping to prevent erosion of the shore and providing a habitat for wildlife and rare plants.

cavendish--

A small harbour near Stanhope in the Prince Edward Island National Park . . .
Look at the grass–can you tell it was a windy day?

lighthouse at fort amherst5

One of the lighthouses at Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada . . . PEI has 1,100 miles of coastline, with 63 lighthouses and rangelight buildings dotting
its shores (40 of them are still active).

shoreline at fort amherst

The red rocks of Rocky Point . . . The ragged sandstone cliffs contain
a high concentration of iron, which creates the red color.

wildflowers in the wind

 Wildflowers in the wind . . . These wildflowers (New England asters, I think)
were growing everywhere on the island.

sunrise Montague 2nd day final

And my favorite photo, sunrise over the Montague River at Montague . . .
the perfect start to a beautiful day.

Posted in cycling, Photography, Simple Pleasures, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mid-Night Ramblings (And You Thought YOU Were Weird)

It used to be (or so it seemed) that my every waking moment was spent trying to fulfill someone else’s needs. When my children were young, mornings were a chaotic rush of cereals poured, animals fed, permission slips signed, backpacks assembled, and missing shoes located. And mornings were easy compared to the hours that followed, hours of trying to spark an interest in the beauty and complexities of the English language, hours of writing curriculum guides and policy manuals, hours of soothing worried parents and answering to angry ones, hours of attending pointless meetings and supervising endless after-school activities.

And then came those few hectic moments between the end of the school day and the sweet relief of bedtime. Something passing as semi-healthy had to be served up for dinner, and then homework had to be checked, spelling words practiced, uniforms washed, and little boys comforted when little girls broke their tender hearts.

And if you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

And then I would stumble my weary bones to bed, where the demands of the day would provide a never-ending list of things to worry and fret over–resulting in prolonged glaring at the clock and punching the pillow before my over-charged brain would finally shut down for the few remaining hours of the night.

But that was then. These days my responsibilities are few, and my hours are, for the most part, leisurely and peaceful and slow. My children are happy, and my health is good. I watch the wildflowers blooming and the sun setting, and I sip my tea. Carefree days should lead to restful nights, right? I wish. Sometimes it’s a snoring grizzly that disrupts my slumber, and sometimes it’s the sudden, frequent urge to empty an itsy-bitsy bladder. Regardless, my crazy cranium, unencumbered by legitimate concerns, uses these middle-of-the-night wakings to dig up random snippets of memory and to invent all kinds of nonsense to ponder. Silly stuff. Weird stuff.

Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep. I need to sleep . . . I wonder if there are any plastic surgeons who give group discounts–like, get four body parts lifted and get the fifth one free? And do body parts that come in pairs count as one or two? Can you mix and match procedures–buy two enlargements and two lifts and get a tuck free? Would they let me pay with weekly deliveries of cheesecake? Or would they simply look at me sadly and say, “Oh, honey, you should have come in YEARS ago.”? Wait . . . WHAT’S CRAWLING ON MY LEG??? “Crazy laughter in another room and she drove herself to madness with a silver spoon” . . . 

Might as well get up and pee since I’m already awake . . . I only had one glass of water three hours ago–where does all this stuff come from? Wow, the floor’s freezing–but that cold air coming in through the open windows feels sooo good. Snuggling weather. Sweatshirt weather. Bonfires. Falling leaves. Chili. Ooh, maybe I should make some chili for supper tomorrow. I’ll have to go to the grocery store–better make a list . . . 

How many frogs are in the chorus outside my bedroom window–dozens or hundreds? It sounds like hundreds. Are they mere feet away or scattered throughout the woods? And why do they stop singing sometime before dawn–do they individually drop off into slumber throughout the night (lucky frogs), or at some point does the lead singer signal the finale? Is there a lead singer? And if so, how was that decided–some kind of alpha male contest for domination in the froggy world, or was it just “all about that bass, ’bout that bass”? . . . 

Geez, Louise, if someone could just collect the nightly sweat pools of hot flashers everywhere, there’d be enough water to douse the wildfires in California AND end the drought . . . 

How many more games before the Cardinals clinch the National League Central Division? Because they ARE going to clinch it. And does anyone (coaches, wives?) ever tell ballplayers that they really shouldn’t be running the bases with a mouth full of sunflower seeds? I’d hate for someone to miss the post-season because he choked on a mouthful of shells while sliding into second . . . “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name too. Whenever we go out, the people always shout, there goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt! Dah dah dah dah, dah dah dah” . . . 

Yeah, biting into that red jalapeno from the garden just to see if it was really and truly hot probably wasn’t one of the brightest things I’ve ever done. My tongue is still on fire, and my lips are numb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Good grief! How long does it take for chigger bites to stop itching? It’s been a month–enough already! . . . 

Who decided we would shave our legs but not our arms, our chins but not our eyebrows? And what marketing guru thought watermelon and banana split Oreos were a good idea? If it ain’t broke . . . maybe that genius could better spend his time developing a tortilla chip hardy enough to withstand the amount of spinach dip I want to pile on it . . . And why do ads for dating Russian and Ukrainian women keep popping up on my email screen? What in the world have I clicked on in the past that has spawned algorithms indicating I am a senior man interested in East European buxom beauties? Hmm, maybe someone else was using my computer . . . 

If at least one body part is always in motion–jiggling, wiggling, swinging and swaying–does that mean I’m always burning calories without even trying? “Hey kid, rock and roll, rock on, ooh, my soul. Hey kid, boogey too, did ya? Hey shout, summertime blues, jump up and down in my blue suede shoes.” I think even I could write song lyrics . . . and I wonder where my blue suede shoes are . . .

Three more sleeps! . . . 

I wonder if I could pay someone to clean out all my jumbled dressers and closets–would it cost hundreds (thousands) of dollars? And would that person silently judge me for the disarray but at least sign a confidentiality agreement so no one else would know that I had 87 pairs of underwear and 27 bras all crammed into the same tiny drawer? . . .

Ahh, sweet, gentle rain, watering my garden so I don’t have to. Maybe I can get some raindrop pictures in the morning. Maybe the rain will wash all the tree sap and bird droppings off my car, too. Wait–did I mail off the car insurance payment? Wasn’t it due a couple weeks ago–or was that the phone bill? . . . “Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling me just what a fool I’ve been” . . . and reminding my itsy-bitsy bladder that it’s time to get up again.

By the end of our lives, the lucky ones among us will have spent about one-third of our lives in restful slumber. And even though Thomas Edison thought sleep was highly over-rated, I tend to disagree with him. Maybe he–one of the greatest minds of all time–used those extra hours of wakefulness to invent motion picture cameras and commercial light bulbs and other such gifts to civilization, but I can assure you that no such benefits can be gained from my insomnia. A few more hours of sleep, though, might be the necessary ingredient for wiping away some of the weirdness bouncing around up there–but the world, most likely, will never know.

So what about you? What weird thoughts keep you awake at night, depriving you of the restful sleep you so desperately crave? (Please tell me you have weird thoughts.) Or are you one of those fortunate souls whose eyelids flutter shut when your head hits the pillow and remain blissfully closed until the alarm clock sounds? (I’ll try not to hate you.)

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Sometimes I can blame that sleeplessness on the moon . . .

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Or outside creepy-crawlers that have invaded my space . . .

butterfly9-11-14Or visions of the next day’s photographic adventures . . .
like shooting the black swallowtail butterfly that was last month’s caterpillar.

Posted in Humor, Photography, Sleeplessness | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

And That’s Why I Could Never Be Married to Me

It was a sunny Friday in May of 1981. A few days away from finishing my student teaching practicum, I had spent a frustrating morning attempting to teach yearbook design and narrative essays to seniors who were past caring about anything more than their baby oil suntans and summer party plans. I was leaving the building for lunch, hoping a DQ banana split with extra maraschinos would lift my spirits, when my boyfriend’s car screeched to a halt at the curb.

Great! Maybe he would buy my lunch, something a little more substantial than two scoops of dairy and a few slices of fruit. But, no, he had other plans. When I hopped into the car, he turned to me, grinning, and said,

“So . . . do you want to go pick out rings?”

It wasn’t exactly a bacon cheeseburger with a side of fries, but it was something.

I don’t remember ever actually talking about marriage in the two years we’d been dating–and his “proposal” wasn’t quite as romantic as my diary dreams had envisioned, but it was good enough. “Sure!” I responded, and then added an enthusiastic hug and kiss for good measure. We drove to his friend’s jewelry store, where I picked out something small and practical (because that’s the kind of gal I am), and then we were off to share the news with our mamas. My mom cried and hugged us both, and his mom clapped her hands together before uncorking a bottle of champagne.

Fast forward seven months to the rehearsal dinner the night before THE DAY. My soon-to-be husband stood before our gathered friends and family and entertained them with a greatly altered story about the day I had realized what a great “catch” he was–and had asked him to marry me. Wait, what? Everyone else laughed, but the burgeoning feminist inside me bristled. I was no beggar. I was tempted to remind funnyman that there were still other “fish in the sea” and that, for the next few hours anyway, “catch and release” was still an option.

Instead, I waited for him to finish his little comedy routine before quietly announcing to the crowd:

“Just to clarify, I didn’t ask him to marry me. I TOLD him.”

That was almost 33 years ago. He still thinks he’s funny, and I still think I’m the boss, but he makes me laugh and I make him crazy, and somehow that combination clicks. He claims he would marry me all over again, which I think proves he is a glutton for punishment (of the cruel and unusual kind) because when I think about all my annoying little (big) habits, heck, even I could never be married to me.

And here’s why:

  • I’m a whiner. Okay, maybe not about everything, but I do cry and complain, pout and moan about my inability to lose any more weight–while I’m munching my way to the bottom of the Cheetos bag and then cleansing my palate with a glass of wine before attacking the pan of brownies.
  • I’m wasteful. Even though our sons have been out of the house for several years now, I still haven’t figured out how to cook for just two people–which results in a refrigerator crammed with the greasy, slimy, soggy, sloppy remains of pizzas and roasts and fish and casseroles that send my gag reflex into overdrive. Hubby can take those leftovers for his lunch (day after day after day), or I can pitch them once they’re no longer identifiable–but I’m not eating them.
  • I worry too much. I wake up, sleep-deprived, from a restless night of battling bad guys and conquering armies of what ifs. A cup of tea and a hot shower will clear away all the nonsense, but within minutes all the nervous neurons in my caffeinated brain have fired themselves into a tizzy. It might rain out our picnic. (Yeah, but it might not.) What was that noise? Is that escaped convict from the jail two counties over hiding in our basement. (Really? He’d pass a few thousand other houses just to get to ours?) If I shake my groove thing on the dance floor tonight, everyone will laugh at me. (Get over yourself. They’re too busy having fun to notice inconsequential, little you.) The sheriff’s office left a message on the answering machine while I was in the shower, asking me to call back as soon as possible. Oh no! Is something wrong with one of our boys? Or has there been a sighting of that escaped convict in our area after all? I can barely breathe as I dial the number. (M’am, you’ve been selected for the jury pool. Please report next Thursday at 9 a.m.)
  • I have very little patience. Sure, I can stand motionless with my camera as minutes tick into eternity, waiting for a sunrise or sunset and then shooting hundreds of photos as the shifting colors mesmerize me. But if I have to learn something new–especially if such knowledge is contained within the pages of an instruction manual (and especially if that instruction manual is for a technology device)–then 30 seconds of profound confusion is all I can handle before slamming the manual and the offending device to the floor and going in search of that pan of brownies to calm my tear-streaked rage.
  • I try to (s)mother my husband. When I’m not feeling well, I want to be left alone. Let me sleep away this headache, and let me puke in private. But when my husband is sick, I just can’t let him be–it’s my job to take care of him, isn’t it? Do you need anything? More Kleenex? Some Advil? (I really think you should take some Advil.) I’ll make you some chicken noodle soup. (You don’t want any? It would make you feel better–I think you should eat some.) And even when he isn’t sick, I still think I need to take care of him (control him) by advising him what to do (when he hasn’t asked) because that’s just how I am (because my students are gone and my kids are grown, and I have no one else to nurture/annoy).
  • I am unfazed by bedroom and bathroom clutter. I couldn’t be married to me if I were having to rummage through laundry baskets for clean work shirts that have yet to be folded or trying to find a tiny spot to lay my razor on the bathroom counter–just one little spot amid the lotions and gels and sprays and makeups and curling irons and jewelry. Sure, I could spend a few minutes everyday putting all those clothes and beauty implements in their proper places, but I have more important things to worry about (like escaped convicts hiding in the basement) and more important things to do (like mixing up another batch of brownies).
  • I spend too much money on clothes I don’t need. And at the risk of incriminating myself, I have nothing further to say on that subject.
  • I would be GROSSED OUT by stubbly legs rubbing up against mine. An Australian study last year revealed that women find men with heavy facial stubble to be attractive and desirable; if a similar study someday concludes that men feel the same way about women with heavy leg stubble, that just might be my ticket to a spot on AskMen’s list of the Top 99 Most Desirable Women (geriatric edition). In the meantime, I’ll continue to be disgusted by my own wintry growth of leg whiskers (but not enough to do anything about it).

Just as I was putting what I thought were the finishing touches on my list of annoying habits, my husband entered the room. I told him what I was writing and asked if he had anything to add.

“Nope. You’re wonderful.” (Translation: “You’re asking me to criticize you? Do you think I’m stupid? You’ll get mad and then wait ’til I’m sleeping to carve my calves with all that dang stubble. I ain’t playing this game!”)

But when I read him my list, the temptation to contribute to the bashing (offer his loving assistance) was just too great, and so here are even more reasons why, according to Hubby, I could never be married to me:

  • I’m too controlling. I do not like to be controlled, although apparently I have no qualms about wielding the whip myself. I don’t issue commands, though; my bossiness is much more subtle, passive-aggressive even. Don’t you want this last piece of pie? (Eat it!) Do you think maybe you could take out the trash before the pungent stench of raw chicken scraps permeates the entire house? (Do it! Do it now!) Are you seriously going to wear those plaid shorts with that Hawaiian shirt? (I’m not leaving this house with you until you change.)
  • My driving would scare the hell out of me. I speed up and slow down, speed up and slow down. I tailgate. I won’t pass. I drift toward the center when going over a hill. I get distracted by the scenery. (Reminder: These are Hubby’s opinions, not mine. I think my driving is just fine–and I only tailgate people who don’t drive the speed limit.)
  • I roll my eyes. Okay, yeah, I’d probably have to slap myself over this one.
  • I ask too many questions–about everything. Hey, I have an inquisitive mind–how else can I learn without asking questions? I am interested in the opinions and activities of others–isn’t it polite to show that interest through thoughtful inquiry? And is it so wrong to want to know where you’re going, what you’re going to be doing, who you’re going to be with, when you’re going to be home, how many beers you think you might have?
  • I sigh heavily. Repeatedly. Hubby refers to this not-so-affectionately as “the hiss of the snake” and claims I do it whenever I’m not happy with something he’s doing or has done (which apparently is fairly often). I think the hiss is from choking back all those questions I’m dying to ask.
  • I don’t know how to correctly place the toilet paper roll onto the toilet paper holder. And that matters because . . . ?

It was around this point in the conversation that I decided I’d heard more than enough about me and my faults (even if I had been the one to bait the hook).

“So what about you?” I asked. “Would you like a list of some of your more annoying habits?”

“Hell, no. I don’t need a list. I’m perfect just the way I am.”

“So, you’re saying that you could be married to you?”

“Hell, yeah!”

And there you have it, folks. He’s a keeper.

But, crazy as it seems, apparently so am I.

And all the other fish in the sea are safe.

Note: I may never have enough patience to figure out the intricacies of the television remote, but I have more than enough for shooting . . .

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daisies after a morning shower . . . 

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the gentle glow of a sunrise . . .

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the inspiring beauty at day’s end . . . 

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as the setting sun colors the clouds and waters below . . . 

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or even creepy-crawlers
(like this caterpillar waiting to turn into a black swallowtail butterfly). 

 

Posted in Humor, Marriage, Photography | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Sticks and Stones and the Danger of Public Nudity

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”
― Winston Churchill

A few years back I wrote a blog about the kind words of strangers and acquaintances and how those words often transform a dismal day or an entire perspective into something beautiful. (It’s still one of my favorite posts; you can read it here.) The boss praises our efforts, a friend admires our new shirt or haircut, a stranger compliments our child’s performance–and suddenly we smile a little brighter, walk a little taller, and feel a little better about ourselves and our world. You know what I’m talking about (or, at least, I hope you do).

I have been blessed by the kind words of others–most recently in response to my writing, photography, and cycling endeavors–and every cherished tidbit of praise has encouraged me to continue sharing my joy. With every received compliment, the sun shines on my shoulders, daisies burst into bloom at my feet, and chocolate-covered caramels melt in my mouth. You get the idea.

And then along comes a jerk who pees on my rainbow.

Each year our little lake community hosts a fantastic Fourth of July fireworks celebration over the water, and for the past two years I’ve been fortunate to watch and photograph those fireworks from a friend’s deck overlooking the lake. Fireworks photography is challenging, especially for someone who prefers to shoot the slowly shifting colors of a sunset or the gentle dance of wildflowers in the morning breeze. I still have a lot to learn, but after much research and some good advice from one of my photographer sons, I’ve been fairly satisfied with my early attempts. When I shared this year’s photos on Facebook, I received overwhelming support–numerous shares, likes and positive feedback, including a comment from a former student who had watched the fireworks display and remarked on one of my pictures that it looked just as cool as she remembered.

There is perhaps no greater compliment for an aspiring photographer than knowing a photo she has created through the combined forces of her camera and her own artistic vision not only appeals to so many but also reinforces what they have seen with their own eyes. I was happy–until I came across a very unflattering comment from a stranger.

The local marina had shared my photos on its Facebook page, and on that page a man commented that he had been at the fireworks display and my pictures didn’t look anything like what he saw–and that my pictures looked “fake.” I was crushed, but I was also angry. I felt this man was not just criticizing my photos but also attacking ME and my integrity. Fake? I swallowed my anger and politely replied to his comment, trying to explain lighting and exposure and perspective, but he fired back that it must have taken me “10 years to edit them to look like that.” I knew I had spent mere minutes editing the entire lot of them, but I exited the conversation, already realizing my efforts to explain would be futile. Good or bad, most people see what they want to see and believe what they want to believe.

His words continued to sting, though. At first I tried convincing myself that his comments said much more about him than they did about me or my abilities. What kind of person feels the need to publicly criticize the creative efforts of a stranger? My mother (and probably yours, too) frequently advised that “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Did his mother forget to pound that lesson into his brain? (I sure wanted to pick up a sledgehammer and do a little overdue pounding for her.) I even told myself that maybe I should consider it a compliment that someone thought my photos were too good to be “real.” After all, I’ve worked hard to improve my photography skills–but his comments made me question even my meager abilities and wonder if my efforts would ever be good enough.

A month later I have finally accepted that even if his criticism did say something about him, my reaction to his words–especially my inability to just let them go–also says a lot about me.

I’m not very good at following my own advice. When I was a junior high principal, one of the most frequent issues I dealt with was one student’s anger or hurt feelings over another student’s words or actions. Oftentimes, students seeking counsel in my office were either crying inconsolably or threatening to do immediate and major bodily harm to an offending party–and sometimes (depending on the students involved) I could talk these students out of their pain and anger by reminding them they were giving away their power. I would explain that by allowing another student to goad them into tears or actions they would regret, they were giving the other student power over them–and that sometimes the best thing to do was to rise above the situation and ignore the offense so that the other student didn’t have the satisfaction of knowing that what he said or did mattered. I don’t know how good the advice was for junior high students (sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t), but it’s advice I should be following myself. I got my feelings hurt by a stranger who probably knows very little about photography or the creative process, and I gave away my power to this person who didn’t deserve it. I should have known better.

And what about you? How many times have you given away your power by allowing someone else to control your thoughts and feelings? Angry spouses, annoying colleagues, incompetent bosses, disgruntled customers, sullen strangers–all have the power to send our spirits plummeting (but only because we let them).

I need to get tougher. After this stranger’s criticism, I fell into a creative slump. I didn’t feel like writing, and when I tried, every sentence I strung together just sounded stupid. For weeks I seldom picked up my camera–and even though I shared a few photos, I wasn’t happy with any of them. Not only had I allowed this guy’s negativity to have power over my feelings, but I had also let him creep into my psyche and steal my joy. Shame on me. Why did I allow his one negative comment to ring louder in my head than all the positive comments combined?

When I share my creative endeavors with my little portion of the world, I’m choosing to shed my protective layers and engaging in a form of public nudity. I’ll never be flashing my belly flab (insert collective sigh of relief), but with every published sentence and every shared photograph, I’m exposing even more. And it’s scary. My heart, my soul, my spirit–all are laid bare before readers and viewers, and if I want to continue to receive the constructive criticism I need and the encouraging praise I crave (yeah, I admit it), then I need to be willing to accept the occasional negative feedback I dread. It may take more bravery than I have (and certainly more bravery than I think I have), but that’s the necessary price for disclosure.

And isn’t that the risk we all take when we present our real, imperfect selves to the rest of humankind? We may not all write stories, take photos, paint pictures, create music–but we do all share tidbits of our selves with the world, and whether we do so courageously or timidly, we hope the world will respond to our efforts with kindness.

I am my own worst enemy. And I’m willing to bet that you are, too. Yes, we occasionally let strangers hurt us. More often, its close friends and family who do the damage. The people who love us the most are also the ones privy to our greatest vulnerabilities and our deepest fears, and they know exactly where to prick and prod in order to inflict the most pain. But much more damaging than the sticks and stones hurled at us by others are the BOMBS we launch against ourselves. Most of us say cruel, hateful things to ourselves that we would never dream of saying to anyone else, and we have an inner reel of negative self-talk on a never-ending cycle of “play-rewind-repeat.” We step on the scales and tell ourselves we’re fat slobs. We look too closely in the mirror and declare that we’re ugly or old. We make a simple mistake at work and decide we’re stupid and incompetent. And, oh my, when we make the smallest parenting blunder, our children usually recover and forget long before we stop wallowing in the certainty that we are the worst parent ever.

We can’t grow without honest, constructive criticism, but we also can’t allow the opinions of others to define or destroy us. And even though we can often do better, we also need to add to that internal playlist the mantras that “I am still good” and “Sometimes, good is enough.” Really, would that stranger’s words have hurt me so deeply if they hadn’t reinforced an insecurity that was already there?

…………………………………

I understand that, in the big picture, this was such a minor incident that it should have been immediately shrugged off and already forgotten. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone else’s words stung, and it won’t be the last. It’s impossible to live, work, decide, create without occasionally drawing the wrath or ridicule of another–intentional or not, deserved or not. And I am no saint myself. Although I have tried to live by my mother’s admonishment to be nice or be quiet–at least when talking to friends, acquaintances and strangers–I have certainly flung more than my share of sticks and stones (trees and boulders sometimes) at family members.

What I don’t understand, though, is when or why our society became so angry and cruel that so many feel the need–and the right–to verbally assault a stranger. Sit in the stands at any ballgame, and you’ll hear a barrage of insults directed at the biased referee or blind umpire. Sit long enough in a busy restaurant or stand in a long check-out line at Christmas, and you’ll hear over-worked waiters and cashiers berated for issues beyond their control. Even worse, scroll through a Facebook news feed or read the comments section on any online news story to witness the hatred of cowards who feel empowered by virtual anonymity. It’s much too easy to hide behind a computer screen, viciously attacking the appearance, intelligence, talents, parenting choices, political views, religious preferences, sexual orientation (and on and on and on) of someone they will most likely never meet. But easy will never make it right. Obviously, we’re always going to have differences of opinion (and thank goodness for that), but can’t we temper those differences with empathy and kindness?

Enough. It’s time for me to step off the soapbox and wander outside where the sun is shining and the daisies are blooming.

Please, whatever puts rainbows in your sky, don’t give someone else the power to take it all away. And don’t let the enemy within take it away, either.

“And yes, it really did look like that when it was seen
through my eyes and through my heart. The tools of our craft are a camera and a lens, but what makes it art is vision and passion . . .
I want the legacy that I create with my photographs to be judged
not by how many photographs I make in this lifetime but what those few magic frames do in the hearts and minds of others.”
–Photographer David duChemin

And here are a few of those fireworks photos from this year’s display . . . If you’d like to see more of my photos (sunsets and wildflowers and waterfalls–oh my!), click here to visit my public Facebook page–and please “like” it to get frequent updates. My friend Patty also took some great fireworks photos–to see them and more of her beautiful photos, you can visit PAC Photography’s page by clicking here.

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Posted in Advice, Kindness, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Goldilocks Gets a Buzz … And a Lesson in Tolerance, Too

Once upon a time, a little girl in a little town quietly walked upon a stage in front of a crowd of strangers and bravely relinquished her long, golden ponytail to the snip, snip, snip of the scissors. And then that little girl in that little town timidly challenged the members of the crowd to do the same–to grow their hair long enough that it, too, could be cut and donated to Locks of Love, thereby giving back to other brave children somewhere a little of the confidence and normalcy that disease had so ruthlessly stolen from them.

My husband and I were in that crowd, and my husband was moved by the little girl’s plea.

“I could do that,” said my husband.

“Yeah, right,” I said, being the supportive and encouraging wife that I always am. “The guy who never lets his hair grow long enough to touch the tops of his ears is going to grow hair long enough to donate to Locks of Love? No way–you can’t, and you won’t.” And then I laughed and laughed at his foolishness, momentarily forgetting that this man’s stubbornness is almost equal to my own.

“Just watch me,” he replied.

And that was all it took–not even a double dog dare was needed. He strutted his manly self to the stage and accepted the little girl’s challenge–without realizing his crew cut would have to grow to at least a 10-inch ponytail before it could be donated, without realizing it would take TWO YEARS for his hair to reach that length, and without realizing that he would have to dye his hair before donating it because children’s wigs aren’t generously sprinkled with gray.

It was a long, LONG journey from crew cut to ponytail–but an eye-opening one as well. In the beginning, it wasn’t that big of a deal–in fact, when his hair reached that slightly unkempt, tousled stage, it was even kind of cute (Zoinks, Shaggy!). Unfortunately, that stage didn’t last long enough, soon to be replaced by the unmanageable (hideous, to be exact) “Bozo” stage when the longer his hair grew, the thicker and curlier it became–and the more it stuck out in every direction all over his head. A kind, sympathetic wife would have lied and told him it was still cute–unfortunately, he was not married to that woman.

By the end of the first year, his curly hair was finally touching his shoulders and starting to calm down, and Bozo was mercifully replaced by Goldilocks. Suddenly and much to his delight (and my annoyance), he was being hit on by strange women (and men), all of whom were running their fingers through his beautiful curls (often without asking permission first) and begging him not to cut it. (Really? If you think it’s so great, why don’t you just trot your flirtatious, brazen hussy self over to my house where you can gather keepsake clumps from my clogged shower drains and sinks and counters and hair brushes and pillowcases and refrigerator and every other imaginable surface?)

And then–much to my delight and his annoyance–people began mistaking him for a woman. Servers who approached our table from behind asked, “What would you ladies like to drink?” assuming, I’m sure, that no man could possibly have such luxurious hair. Again, I laughed and laughed as he tossed his golden locks and mustered his manliest, deepest voice to respond, “I’ll take a Michelob Ultra.” (It was no surprise the customer service following every such case of mistaken identity was amazing.)

Other assumptions about Goldilocks were not so amusing. Before long we started noticing the stares of strangers, some of them almost belligerent. Who was this long-haired, hippie freak who had wandered into their midst? Pothead? (“Hey, Lois, is that mari-ju-ana I smell on him?”) Faded rock star? (“I don’t know–aren’t those guys usually taller?”) Biker wannabe? (“Hold my beer, RayBob, I’m gonna whoop his long-hair, sissy ass!”) Or just another pathetic loser going through a mid-life crisis and pretending to be much younger and cooler than he actually is? (“Yeah, that’s probably it. I’ll bet he’s even got some of those sissy tattoos underneath that leather jacket. C’mon, RayBob, hold my damn beer!”)

Even worse than their assumptions, though, was that we frequently felt the need to explain to these staring strangers the real purpose behind the hair growth–and while those explanations were then greeted with smiles all around, handshakes, pats on the back and kind remarks (“Good for you!” What a great thing you’re doing!”), it was still disturbing that these strangers’ opinions mattered so much–or that their opinions mattered at all. We (and by “we” I mean you, too) say that we don’t care what others think of us, but is that really, really true when we’re certain we’re being judged unfairly?

The worst encounter, however, was the morning Goldilocks played Good Samaritan and stopped to help a fellow traveler. It was snowing heavily at the time, and the man (who also happened to have long hair) had slid off ice-covered roads, into a ditch and through a fence. As Goldilocks was pulling the man’s beat-up Mustang from the ditch, he learned the poor guy had just lost his only other means of transportation in a fire and was driving in such treacherous conditions only because of an important doctor’s appointment. As the two men prepared to part ways, a law enforcement official finally arrived–and immediately wanted to know what “you guys” were doing out in such weather. The officer assumed that because they were both “longhairs,” they were together–and obviously up to no good. It took a while to convince the officer that Goldilocks was just a passing motorist who had stopped to help. He was finally allowed to leave, but not before witnessing the officer writing the other man a ticket for “failure to maintain proper control of a vehicle” (Really? Was that really necessary?) and hearing the officer respond to two more radio calls about other accidents. My husband (a former law enforcement official himself) drove away wondering how much the man’s appearance factored into the officer’s decision to ticket him–and wondering if all the other motorists who wrecked on those treacherous roads that day were also ticketed for not maintaining proper control of their vehicles.

Goldilocks’ decision to grow and donate his hair to Locks of Love may have started as a spontaneous charitable act, but it unintentionally grew into a lengthy lesson on tolerance–and we were the star pupils. With every negative assumption aimed his way, we were both forced to consider all the times we had been not just the victims but also the perpetrators of such unfair judgments ourselves. Just as he was being evaluated for his hairstyle, I had often felt the hurtful sting of being appraised and found lacking simply because of my gender, my size, my age or even (good grief) my hair color. But how many times had we done the same thing–so quickly and wrongly assessed others based solely on aspects of their appearances that didn’t agree with our own personal tastes (their clothes and hair, their tattoos and piercings, their body shapes and sizes)? More times than it was comfortable to admit. Will we ever again wrongly judge another? Of course we will–we’re human and at least 175 degrees to the left of perfect. But will we try harder to be a little more objective and sympathetic and a little less self-righteous and smug? Yes. YES.

When his hair finally reached the desired length–two years later–Goldilocks gratefully marched upon that same stage where that same little girl was waiting with a pair of scissors to make the first ceremonial snips. Four others (all females) joined him on the stage that night, all donating their precious ponytails, too, so that children somewhere could have the wigs they needed. Goldilocks’ buzz alone yielded nine ponytails (nine!), and even though it was the toughest, sweatiest, most frustrating challenge he had ever accepted–much harder, he said, than the 2-day, 200-hundred mile bike rides he participates in to raise funds for multiple sclerosis–it was still rewarding to participate in such a worthwhile cause, to be humbly reminded of the much more difficult challenges that others face every day, and to learn a few valuable lessons along the way.

But he will never grow his hair that long again–unless, of course, I tell him that he can’t . . .

Note: Did you know that most wigs for medical patients are custom-made prosthetics? And did you know that it can take several weeks to make just one wig, that it can take as many as 6-30 ponytails or braid donations to make that one wig–or that one wig can cost anywhere from $800-$3,000 to make? If you’re interested in making a hair donation, there are several websites with further information–here are just a few: locksoflove.com, pantene.com, childrenwithhairloss.uswww.wigsforkids.org.

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Two years ago, on the night he accepted the little girl’s challenge . . . 

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Two years later, on the night Goldilocks got his buzz . . . 

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And showing off his nine ponytails the next day–what sweet relief.

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 And one of my recent sunset shots . . . just because.

Posted in Kindness, Men, Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Day Before Tomorrow

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

We look forward to five years down the road when we can trade in the old car, pay off the house or finally retire. We mark off days on the calendar as we anticipate next fall’s baby arrival or next summer’s long-awaited vacation. We count the dragging minutes before Friday’s clock signals the start of our BIG weekend. And we even go to bed early sometimes so that tomorrow will show up faster.

Whatever the reasons, we always seem to be looking ahead toward some tomorrow–while often forgetting that we have the ability to make the day before tomorrow a special occasion, too.

That’s right. I’m talking about today–right now. Today is every bit as special as whatever tomorrow we’re waiting for because today we are here. Today we are gloriously alive–inhaling and exhaling, burping and sneezing and sweating, producing billions of groovy new cells and sending billions of crazy cool messages to our spectacular brains at break-neck speed. Can any of us say with unwavering confidence that we will be doing all that tomorrow as well?

So here’s what I want you to do (and I’ll try to do the same): If only for this day, if only for a few moments in this day, spend a little less time regretting the problems of yesterday or waiting for the uncertain promises of tomorrow–and instead focus on reveling in the delicacy of the here and now.

Dress up. Wear your favorite outfit, your best colors, your sexy shoes, your grandma’s jewelry, your expensive perfume. Even if you’re just staying home and no one else will know, you will–and you’ll feel better for it.

Look in the mirror–LOOK–and say over and over again until you truly believe it: “I am beautiful. I am smart. I am strong. I am good.” Stop looking for the ugly (it isn’t there) and say hello to the amazing person that others see. (Yeah, I know that sounds a little too hippie chick ridiculous for some of you, but can’t you at least give it a try? You can close the door and whisper, if you must, so no one else will know.)

Write–something, anything (anything, that is, except a list of chores–you can write that list tomorrow). When is the last time you wrote a poem, a song, a journal entry, a letter? Pour out your passion in ink splotches, quell your raging beast with keystrokes–open those floodgates and write.

Turn off the television, the radio and every other noisemaker and savor the silence. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and let your mind wander wherever it will (except to that neglected chore list–re-direct!).

Exercise–your brain and your body. They may both hate you in those first agonizing moments when they realize what you’re up to, but they’ll thank you eventually (and if they don’t, put them through the same regimen again and again and again until they do).

Slam the door on those sneaky, inner gremlins who keep invading your brain, warping your reality and stealing your sunshine. Maybe (probably) if you deprive those little joy-suckers of the attention they demand, they’ll starve and wither into impotent nothingness.

Go outside. Breathe in the fragrance of early morning, feel the whispering breeze against your skin, watch and hear the world come alive. Gaze at cottony clouds skittering across the afternoon sky, listen to the tree frogs welcoming the dusk. Be at peace.

Take time to dream–and don’t just dream little dreams that are safe and sure. See yourself accomplishing those little ones and then fearlessly marching on to something even more daring, colossal and magnificent. Kick your fears out the back door (kick ’em hard), squelch that self-doubt and believe in your Superhero (with a capital S) power to turn even your biggest dreams into blazing reality.

Be gentle with yourself. Of course, you’ve made mistakes–and, of course, some of them have been monstrous. You’re human, right? I know it’s hard, but forgive your perfectly imperfect self and move on.

Eat something that is good for you–luscious berries, garden-ripe vegetables, or one super-sized, humongous piece of decadent dark chocolate that melts ever-so-slowly in your grateful mouth.

Make a conscious effort to say at least one nice thing to someone else (better yet, shoot for ten!). Tell a young mother her child is beautiful, compliment an elderly gentleman’s colorful tie or the cashier’s lovely shirt, kindly remark on a friend’s funky new hairstyle. Seeing their appreciative smiles will fuel your happiness bonfires. And seriously, can you remember the last time you thought you looked pretty darn good but no one else seemed to notice–and how that made you feel?

Love unabashedly–your family, your friends, your neighbors and colleagues, even the people who don’t love you back. And if you can do it without getting too mushy or weird, tell them through your words and actions how much they mean to you, how much you appreciate their place in your world. Even more importantly, love your own exquisite self (you’re worthy, I promise).

Do something child-like that will make you squeal in delight. Blow soap bubbles, ride a bike, swivel a hula hoop, splash in a puddle, build castles in the sand. You don’t need kids or grandkids around to justify your silliness, and if you’re not already giggling, then just try imagining what your stuffy neighbors must be thinking while spying on you through the kitchen curtains.

And finally, high five your inner badass. Who else has your wisdom, your determination, your courage, your thoughtfulness, your history, your dazzling smile? No one. Celebrate all that is uniquely you–and celebrate, please, this delicious, never-again day before tomorrow. (And I’ll try to do the same.)

“Why do they not teach you that time is a finger snap and an eye blink,
and that you should not allow a moment to pass you by
without taking joyous, ecstatic note of it,
not wasting a single moment of its swift, breakneck circuit?”
– Pat Conroy

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Sometimes I celebrate the day by wandering through flower gardens . . .

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playing with bubbles . . .

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watching storm clouds roll in over the lake . . .

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or admiring a beautiful sunset.

 

 

Posted in Advice, Beauty, Gratitude, Photography, Simple Pleasures | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

When the Inner Child Bubbles

“After a while the middle-aged person who lives in her head
begins to talk to her soul, the kid.”
–Anne Lamott, from the novel Joe Jones

Yesterday morning I awoke to perfection. My eyes fluttered lazily in the pre-dawn moments as a lilac-scented breeze shivered through the curtains and the wind chimes tinkled while a growing chorus of bluebirds and warblers, robins and wrens greeted the rising sun. I lay silently for a few, precious minutes, basking in the peaceful glory–but then my traitorous mind remembered the long list of chores awaiting my attack, and I stumbled grudgingly from my haven.

When I retired almost two years ago, I mistakenly thought all my days would be my own, to do with as I pleased. And while I do spend a disproportionate amount of time in my pajamas (which can be verified by the Fed Ex delivery man, the UPS man, the mail lady and the neighbors), I am almost always busy–too busy–letting the weight of responsibilities and the expectations of the world steal my days and consume my thoughts. There is always just so much to do.

I’m sure you know exactly how that feels.

And so it is no wonder that my spirit cherishes those rare occasions when I can push aside the multitude of grown-woman worries and fears and allow the tender, awe-struck child within to bubble to the surface. Just when I begin to worry that I have lost her forever, buried alive beneath the rubble of Superwoman obligations, she suddenly reappears, and my faith is restored. How can I possibly surrender to this old-age nonsense when there’s still a giddy little girl inside me?

I remember the first time in my adult life when I realized my inner child was still alive and well. I was on a dream trip to New York, attending a Broadway musical with friends, and for the entire two hours of the musical I could not stop smiling. Sure, I was still a boring, frazzled English teacher from the Ozarks, but for that brief time I was also a giddy little girl dazzled by the big ol’ world opening before me.

Giddy Girl reappeared a few years after the New York trip when I was meandering on the sunrise beaches of Sullivan’s Island–and then again several years after that when I was standing in silent reverie at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And then she emerged again when I was riding on the back of my husband’s motorcycle through the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico and exploring the sprawling, old streets of Santa Fe. And more than once last summer she surfaced while we were taking sunset boat cruises around the lake.

And although I never know for sure when Giddy Girl is going to make her presence known, every one of her visits seems to be accompanied by the same sentiments.

Peace. Contentment. Joy.

Perfection.

Thanks to my husband, I recently had the grandest giddy-girl experience yet. For Christmas, he gave me a gift certificate to attend a three-day photography workshop in April with famed nature photographer Tim Ernst–three days of hiking through the woods of Northwest Arkansas, shooting waterfalls and wildflowers and absorbing as much as my frazzled mind could comprehend. It was a gift so thoughtful and generous that it made this grown woman cry while her inner child squealed in excitement and immediately marked off on the calendar how many more “sleeps” there were before the Big Day.

And when that Big Day finally arrived four months later, my inner child bubbled to the surface again and stayed there for the entire three days. I was over the moon with excitement, somersaulting through the clouds and sliding down rainbows (or something equally as goofy).

I was a little girl wading through the ice-cold, knee-deep waters of rushing creeks. So what if the grown, non-swimming woman worried about being viciously attacked by lurking water moccasins or being swept downstream into the crashing boulders? The grown woman used her tripod as a walker to brace against the rapids while the little girl bravely splashed her way through the current because she had been promised waterfall prizes on the other side.

I was a little girl shrieking in terror when the baggy containing one of my lenses fell from my vest–and a grown woman grateful for the knight in shining armor (dressed in husband clothes) who rescued the lens, unharmed, before the current carried it away.

I was a little girl traipsing down over-grown trails and climbing over colossal, fallen logs–and when one of those fallen logs decided the grown woman needed to join it on the rocky ground, the little girl blushed in embarrassment but picked herself up, brushed the dirt and dead leaves off her bruised knees and elbows and backside, and hobbled on.

I was a little girl excitedly scampering through a field of enchanting wildflowers, so focused on clicking away at all the beauty that I never noticed the poison ivy tangling at my feet and silently spewing its venom. And even though the grown woman paid for that inattentiveness for several miserable weeks to come, the little girl within wouldn’t have traded that wildflower paradise for all the Benadryl and calamine lotion in the world.

And I was a little girl desperate for the teacher’s attention and approval, staying up late into the evening, editing pictures and asking questions and seeking advice and cherishing occasional compliments. The grown woman knew the alarm clock’s shrill was only hours away, but she also knew she could sleep when she got home–that this time was too precious and priceless to be frittered away in wasted slumber.

And even though it was an old woman who slept (and scratched) for days after returning home, she never stopped smiling, and she’s smiling still–for she has finally realized that the child within will always be with her. That giddy little girl has claimed a permanent place in the grown woman’s dancing soul and is joyfully waiting for her next opportunity to bubble to the surface again.

What a lucky girl I am.

So what about you–what makes you giddy with delight? What brings you such peace, contentment and joy? And if you don’t know those answers yet, please keep searching until you do–your inner child will thank you. I promise.

These are just a few of my photos from the workshop, and if you think you might be interested in attending one of Mr. Ernst’s photography workshops, you can find more information here.

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Wild phlox by the roadside . . .

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Six Finger Falls . . .

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Wild iris (with poison ivy hiding somewhere nearby) . . .

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Fuzzybutt Falls . . . 

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Morning fog over the “Arkansas Grand Canyon” . . .

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One of my first attempts at night photography . . .

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My favorite–a cascade at Big Creek Falls . . .

workshop2-2And Giddy Girl being schooled by one of the instructors, Ray Scott, who is an exceptional photographer himself. You can view his photo galleries or order one of his books here.

 

Posted in Beauty, Flowers, Gratitude, Ozarks, Photography, Simple Pleasures | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

You’ve Done It, Too–Right?

“Everybody is somebody else’s weirdo.”–Scott Adams

I know I’m a little unusual, a bit eccentric and–let’s face it–sometimes even downright weird (all of which has been previously well documented). I do inexplicable things that don’t always make sense to others–things that are in no way a consequence of my hair color or my hormone levels–but that make perfect sense to me. I also spend too much time worrying about events that will most likely never happen. I mean, there’s a pretty good chance that a meteorite will never slam into my house, that George Clooney will never invite me to dinner, or that I’ll never have to decide how to spend my Powerball winnings–but I have detailed action plans in place just in case. And I over-think everything–except on those too-frequent occasions when stupidity reigns supreme and I don’t think at all.

I’ve admitted, accepted and embraced these idiosyncrasies. Despite frequent bouts of wishful thinking to the contrary, that’s just who I am, and after all these years I don’t know how to be anyone else (believe me, I’ve tried).

Even so, sometimes I suspect that I’m still really not that different from everyone else–especially other women. After all, most men think we’re all a little unusual, eccentric and weird, right? So, humor me, ladies, and tell me how many of the following have you done?

1. You’ve unhooked and flung across the room that breast-defining, breath-defying instrument of torture immediately upon arriving home.

2. You’ve answered the door 15 minutes later with arms crossed across your chest so that the Fed Ex delivery man won’t realize your lack of appropriate attire.

3. You’ve burned your neck with a curling iron and spent the entire day explaining that the resulting red spot is NOT a hickey.

4. You’ve gotten a hickey on your neck (seriously–at your age?) and spent the entire day pretending that the resulting red spot is a curling iron burn and NOT a hickey.

5. You’ve cried yourself to sleep and then sworn the next day that your red, swollen eyes have once again fallen victim to your stupid allergies.

6. You’ve been disgusted in the changing room when a “figure flattering” dress accentuates all the wrong bulges–and then have dislocated half a dozen joints (to the sound of ripping seams) trying to slip it up and over all those bulges.

7. After double-checking to make sure no one else is around, you’ve attempted to mimic Shakira’s hip gyrations, accepting defeat after only a moment because you can no longer breathe, you think you may have pulled something, and the dog looks embarrassed on your behalf.

8. You’ve eaten “just one more” chocolate chip cookie six more times.

9. You’ve tried on eight different outfits before finally deciding on one–and then right before walking out the door, you’ve changed your mind and gone back to choice #1.

10. You’ve sniffed your bra before deciding it’s still good for yet another day of consistent wear.

11. You’ve been so proud of all the money you’ve saved on razors over the winter–until the day of your annual physical and you’ve realized–too late–that your doctor might not be as impressed with your frugal ways.

12. You’ve experimented with several different smiles before deciding which one to attempt in the next picture.

13. You’ve wiped your dripping nose on the end of your sleeve because there were no other options.

14. You have a drawer full of fancy, seldom-worn (and never-worn) lingerie because your faded, tattered flannels are just too darn comfy.

15.  You’ve made accidental eye contact with a strange man and then worried that he might have thought you were flirting and will attempt to make conversation when all you want to do is grab a gallon of milk and some Oreos and go home.

16. You’ve stood nude in front of a mirror and critiqued every body part–you’ve wanted to cry, you’ve vowed to make changes, and then five minutes later you’ve eaten six more of those chocolate chip cookies.

17. You’ve deliberately skipped an aisle in the grocery store because you’ve spotted someone you just don’t want to deal with shopping there–and you’ve thought that maybe if you hurry, you can get out of the store before she spots you.

18. You’ve lied to your doctor, assuring him that yes, you’ve been doing everything he told you to do.

19. You’ve indiscreetly (you hope) unzipped your pants on the way to the public restroom because you’re worried you might not make it in time.

20. You’ve held your breath, sucked in your gut, and cried tears of frustration while flailing on the bed in a desperate attempt to zip and snap your favorite pair of jeans (jeans that fit just fine last month)–and then you’ve paired those too-tight jeans with an over-sized sweatshirt to hide your exploding muffin top–and to hide the fact that after lunch you’ll be walking around with your jeans unzipped and unsnapped.

21. You’ve dropped a piece of food on the floor, dusted it off and put it back on the platter.

22. You’ve stood in front of the bathroom mirror, pulling up your eyelids and cheeks and second chin to see how much younger a little Botox or a big facelift might make you.

23. You’ve cared a lot more about what women think about your appearance than what men think.

24. You’ve drunk out of the jug when no one else is around.

25. You’ve laughed only because everyone else did and then Googled later to find out what in the world they were laughing about. Ohhh . . .

26. You’ve blamed “it” on the dog.

27. You’ve hung up on a telemarketer and felt a twinge of guilt for being rude.

28. You’ve admired other women for their real, understated beauty while wanting to deface magazine, Photoshopped fakeries with penciled-in cellulite crinkles, crow’s feet and devil horns–and you’ve wondered why so many men are fooled by the fakeries and can’t appreciate reality.

29. You’ve lied to your kids about the ingredients in a dish because you know they’ll like it if they’ll just try it.

30. You’ve known your fears are irrational and silly, but you’ve succumbed to them anyway.

31. You’ve finally crawled out of bed to check that the oven is off and the front door is locked because even though you’re sure you did both, you’re not absolutely, positively sure–and you won’t be able to sleep until you are.

32. You’ve bought an item of clothing–even though it didn’t fit–because it was your favorite color and it was on sale. You’ve assured yourself you’ll lose enough weight to wear it–but then you’ve sold it at a yard sale a few years later with the price tag still attached.

33. You’ve burped loudly enough to startle the dog when no other humans were around to hear.

34. You’ve stubbornly refused to apologize (even though you’ve known you’re wrong)–and just as often you’ve willingly apologized (even though you’ve known you’re right) just to put an end to the conflict.

35. You’ve gasped in horror when you’ve realized what you just yelled at your kids came straight out of your mother’s mouth.

36. You’ve wished you could lose weight as easily as you lose patience.

37. You’ve been alone with your thoughts and terrified by where those thoughts have taken you.

38. You’ve imagined your own death countless times–and none of those times has involved dying peacefully in your sleep.

39. You’ve contradicted almost every compliment you’ve ever been given.

40. You’ve counted the number of jelly beans and malted eggs in each Easter basket, the number of sprinkles on top of each cupcake, and the number of pepperoni pieces on each slice of pizza to guarantee that each kid’s portion is exactly the same–and then carelessly overlooked the fact that one kid’s soda glass is half an inch fuller than everyone else’s.

41. You’ve sacrificed and loved and nurtured and done the best you could–and still you’ve worried that you’re a no-good, terrible, very bad mom (and sometimes your children have screamed accusations to that effect).

42. You’ve wished–on more than one occasion–that you could be a man, even if only for a day, because from your vantage point it just looks so much easier.

43. You’ve taped, stapled, paper clipped, safety pinned or glued a hidden piece of garment in order to keep it hidden.

44. You’ve successfully removed items of clothing while driving and then sighed in sweet relief.

45. And you haven’t changed the weight status on your driver’s license since Gerald Ford was President and Elvis was still in the building.

So, ladies, does any of that sound familiar? (Please, please tell me I’m not the only one.) And men, are you surprised–or have you suspected this all along? Have you been baffled and bewildered, frustrated and frightened by our mysterious ways–and somehow loved us anyway?

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Is it weird to think that a weed can be beautiful . . . 

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that an insect can be cool . . .

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or that decay and deterioration can be pretty?

balloons27And is it weird to think sometimes that the best way to survive the day would be to simply fly away?

 

Posted in Aging, Fears, Humor, Parenting, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments