A little over seven years ago, I lost a dear friend to illness. She was 57 years old when she passed away, a year younger than I am today. Not long after that, my husband and I took a year off to RV and see the southwest and we did it with Susan “Q” in mind.
Since that time, I encourage others to “live your dash.” That’s the time between the day you were born and the day you die. Life is an incredible gift and we only get one shot at it.
I was thinking about this yesterday after hearing a song by fellow Texan Willie Nelson and the late Loretta Lynn called “Lay Me Down.” I’m sharing the link, as the message for me was so good.
“I’ll be at peace when they lay me down.”
Live your dash. Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Take trips to places you’ve always wanted to go.
In the words of Mark Twain, “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like nobody’s watching, and live like it’s heaven on earth.”
We spend a significant amount of time every week working. In my humble opionion, we should ensure we’re doing work that matters to us, so that we may fill our souls and not just our bank accounts. Live your dash!
I have always loved the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken since I first read it more than 40 years ago. As a teenager and young adult, I couldn’t appreciate exactly what it meant, I only knew that I liked it. As I have experienced more and more life, the meaning for me is clearer. Is it the meaning Frost intended? Most likely, it isn’t, but it’s certainly what I interpret it to mean for me. It’s not that simple to explain without a little context.
A Short History
Having lived in 22 cities and towns in my life, 20 of those in Texas, I have met a number of interesting people. Most came in for only a few months or years, while others have been around a majority of my life. In the words of For Good from the musical Wicked, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Whether good or bad experiences, these individuals all contributed to the person I am today.
While I grew up southern baptist, I haven’t been affiliated with a church for decades. However, I’ve continued with my faith in God. For me, I’ve found more commitment in that faith through music, reading, and prayer at home or while surrounded by nature. For those of you who prefer a service in a church building, I’m glad it works for you. It’s not my thing for many reasons, but those reasons are not enough to keep me from continuing to have faith.
My Current Reality
Over the past year, I have experienced challenges that were foreign to me. I didn’t recognize until this week that I was allowing those challenges, and those who have played a role in them, to murder my joy. I had become depressed and had little interest in doing anything besides watch television. Even then, I wasn’t really absorbing what I was watching. I wasn’t present. I was only there.
A Look at the Road
Yesterday, the Robert Frost poem came to mind and because this is not only about my personal views, it is also about my literal views, I’m sharing a photo that sums up how I’ve been feeling.
While the picture is not of an actual road in Texas, it represents how traveling through some of the challenges along life’s journey may feel. We are delusional to think it will always be smooth and easy. That’s not really how it works. Certainly, some have it better than others, but I believe that is due to their faith – faith in a higher power and faith in themselves. I was losing that, especially when it came to faith in me, because I was second guessing myself because of what others said about me. Looking back on it now, I seemed to revert back to my awkward teenage years when people’s words hurt and I didn’t have the maturity to understand from where their hurtful comments came. It’s not a good feeling and I don’t recommend it.
Footprints in the Sand
No one could help me bring that back, except me, with help from God.
Another poem that I love was written by Mary Stevenson and is called Footprints in the Sand. It resonated with me this morning.
The number of times my footprints have disappeared and been replaced with only one set is too many to count. God has been with me during my rockiest of moments and I believe God will continue to walk by my side. I also believe I will feel the occasional nudge directing me to get back on the road and not take an unnecessary detour along the way. After all, we can all be squirrels, distracted by the newest, shiniest object along our paths.
Where Do I Go from Here?
I sit in the quiet of a space I’ve grown to love, listening to the birds chirp, the rooster crow, the dogs bark, and the wall clock tick. I take a few breaths and enjoy the solitude of now.
I remember a quote from Admiral James Stockdale, known as the Stockdale Paradox, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Am I ready to face reality? I think so. Should I be fully confident? Maybe. I do recognize that the road not taken that I’ve chosen for my life is filled with all sorts of detours and distractions. How I choose to face those is up to me.
As I contemplate, I recognize the promise of a new day, a new hope, and a new adventure. That keeps me going for the time being. Here’s to finding the joy again and being the best I can be in the time I have been blessed to have on this earth. Onward and upward!
I recently completed a couple of weeks of business travel. My last stop was five days in Las Vegas, Nevada, for an international conference. As I always do when I hit the road, I took a huge number of photos of the trip, trying to capture the architecture of Vegas, both inside and out, and the various casinos that pattern the skyline in such a dramatic fashion.
One of my favorite spots was The Bellagio, a beautiful property, known for its famous Fountains of Bellagio experience, offered daily every 30 minutes in the afternoons and evenings.
While the fountain show was incredible, the inside of the hotel/casino was even more spectacular. On my first day, I walked over to the lobby and enjoying the beautiful fall colors before I even made it through the revolving doors. Like a pied piper, the decorations lead me to a fairy land of delight. I captured photo after photo of tiny characters living under toadstools and in trees, while animal characters slept on rocks by flowing rivers. The words of Roald Dahl, who wrote Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, came to mind while I was exploring the fantasy world The Bellagio had created, “If you want to view Paradise, simply look around and view it.” It truly was spectacular.
The city in the evening is stunning with the beautiful neon lighting up the night from Paris Las Vegas to the Hard Rock Cafe to Planet Hollywood. Day or night, you can view art at Caesar’s Palace or take a gondola ride at the Venetian. There truly seems to be something for everyone…well, it would seem.
Because I’d been trying to get 10,000 steps in per day, I walked a LOT along the streets of Sin City. In the pictures I’ve shared here and others I shared on social media posts, you might not notice the way I cropped some of them. I was purposeful with my cropping. I thought I’d done a good job of hiding something I didn’t want to share. However, in looking at my cropped photos, I found one I thought made a particular statement. If you look closely at the photo below I snapped in the middle of the day, you might notice something a little different from the rest. At the bottom of the iconic golden arches of McDonalds, a person is sleeping on the artificial grass. As someone who has a tough time falling asleep in the best of conditions, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could sleep in the desert heat with the daily noise surrounding them. Did this person come to Vegas looking for their golden ticket?
In the photo below of The Mirage and its lovely water feature, I was literally two feet away from a man sleeping on the concrete using a partially-full 12 pack of beer as a pillow. Steps away from him slept another man in the shade of a walking bridge and across from him was a man sleeping on the floor of an opulent glass elevator used to take people up one floor to the afore mentioned bridge. The irony of the advertisement for The Beatles Love by Cirque du Soleil wasn’t lost on me, nor was the beauty of the water and sky, knowing I was beside a man choosing a concrete sidewalk as his bed for the evening.
Right under the perfume bottle of Chanel and other celebrity fashion designers and restauranteurs scattered throughout the city was a dirty little secret. In the early morning hours, while most were sleeping after a long night of celebrating, gambling, and going to shows, the street sweepers and leaf-blowers were removing, not leaves, but the pamphlets, flyers, and baseball-style, escort cards from the night before, given out by the porn slappers and show pushers. I watched as the garbage was blown toward these individuals, either choosing to be homeless or forced into it by decisions made in their pasts. I was immediately saddened by the entire situation. Saddened, but, ashamedly, not enough to offer any assistance to those who most definitely appeared to be in need.
I know I have prejudices or biases toward people who “portray” themselves as homeless and I’m not too ashamed to admit it. Some of that comes from working in Austin a few years ago. On my commute to work, I saw a very pregnant looking woman holding a sign stating she was nine months pregnant. The first time I saw her, the light was green and I kept going. The next few weeks, I continued to see her. She was nine months pregnant for more than six months on the same corner. Her sign alone left a bad taste in my mouth, as I knew it wasn’t true.
Another man had a picture of his two-year-old son who was terminally ill with cancer. Throughout the four years I worked in the city, I saw this man with the same sign. The child’s age never changed, nor did his picture. Did the man even have a child? I have no idea but because he never made corrections to the sign, I found it hard to believe him. I hope, if he did have a son, that the young boy is okay.
I share this with you as a reflection on myself and us as a nation. I recently watched as the border in my home state of Texas has been dealing with immigration challenges. Thousands of Haitians were under a bridge in the town of Del Rio. I have friends who protested a similar situation about the way people were being treated under the Trump administration and other friends who remained silent. The same friends who protested the treatment under President Trump have said nothing under President Biden and those who were quiet under President Trump are now being vocal under President Biden. Instead of focusing on how to fix the situation, we’re focusing on whether there is a D or an R in front of the leadership’s name. Much like my photos, we’re cropping out the situation to focus on something totally different.
I’m unsure about the way things need to be addressed with the homeless and those who are trying to get into the U.S., but I recognize something needs to be done. I am guilty of casting my eyes in the other direction. In Las Vegas, a stranger passed me as we both looked at a man sleeping on the sidewalk. He asked me, “Is he okay?” I responded, “Not sure.” We then both passed the man, not stopping to find out for sure. When I went by that same spot a few hours later, the man was gone. My hope is he found food, water, and shelter, but I have no way of knowing for sure.
On my final night in Las Vegas, I saw the Statue of Liberty at New York, New York and it gave me pause. I was surrounded by buildings that cost millions and millions of dollars to construct. The city was lit up like a Christmas tree. Visitors were everywhere and we were walking past those living on the streets, as if they didn’t exist. A song came to my head by the singer Christine Lavin. It’s called Somebody’s Baby. Part of the lyrics are “That’s when I saw her all dirty and ragged, drinking a bottle of wine. I turned my head, walked right on by, but one thing stayed in my mind. She once was Somebodys Baby. Someone bounced her on his knee. Do you think he has any idea, what his little girl has turned out to be?”
The Bellagio decorations of tiny fairies living under toadstools and animals sleeping on rocks offered a vast contrast to those living on sidewalks and sleeping under bridges.
I will admit to enjoying my time in Las Vegas, much like people enjoy their time in my city when they are visiting. However, the memory of those I saw on the streets the five days I was there are heavy on my heart. We have some of those same people here, as do most cities and towns across this great nation. Many are known to suffer from mental illness, but we sweep that thought away and choose not to address it as a nation as much as I believe we should. It is uncomfortable and we are a people who like and are accustomed to our comforts.
Perhaps it’s time for us to come together to address these needs as a united voice and not a D or an R or even those who are unaffiliated. As I shared earlier, I’m unsure how but the blame game has got to stop. It is rampant and we are not seeking to understand. We don’t seem to want to understand. How nice would it be for us to find a solution. We should seek to, as Roald Dahl wrote, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” How can we provide the good deed? I’m open to suggestions and to ALL of us listening to each other to find the answers.
In February of 2019, I was fortunate enough to fly to New York City for a work trip. I admittedly had trepidations prior to my visit, which is really unlike me when I travel. I had never been to a city this large and the vastness of it all intimidated me a bit. While I’ve lived in a few large cities, I’m really more of a country girl and prefer the wide open spaces. I suppose I also watch too many crime shows that take place in NYC and was nervous I’d get mugged or worse while walking around by myself. New Yorkers are also not portrayed in the nicest ways so I went with preconceived notions running around in my head.
The trip was magical, especially for an amateur photographer. I clocked over 30 miles on my Fitbit between appointments and, after my work day was done, I took hundreds of pictures with my Nikon and my cell phone. I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to experience it all.
While I would have loved to see a Broadway show, the one thing I knew I had to experience when I arrived in the city happened on my last day.
On February 7, 2019, a little before dusk, I took an Uber two miles to the memorial site and museum dedicated to those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. When I arrived, I walked around the dedication to those lost on that horrific day 20 years ago. Decisions made by those trapped due to the location of the airplanes flying into the buildings were even more impactful when I saw the vastness of the area and could see for myself the height of the adjacent One World Trade Center next door to the memorial. It was apparent for me that I was standing not only on a memorial site but also on an unconventional cemetery dedicated to 2,977 individuals, some who died there and others who lost their lives in Shanksville, PA, and Washington, D.C.
When I entered the 9/11 Museum, I saw the familiar remnants of the building and reminders of that day. The steel beams, the staircase, and the remains of the Ladder 3 Fire Truck left an image in my mind I will not soon forget.
Seeing the smiling faces of those lost that day through photos on a seemingly never-ending wall and hearing the recordings of their voices from messages left on phones or answering machines, struck me with a grief I was not prepared for and I had the desire to run away. I didn’t KNOW these people but I DID know them as my fellow American citizens and people from across the globe who innocently started their day that quickly ended in unforeseen tragedy and loss.
When you’re young and learning about history in school, you tend to read the few paragraphs in your assigned text book and move on without much feeling. I’m sure I was that way when I learned about World War One, the holocaust, and the Vietnam War. Being married to a Vietnam Veteran for 22 years opened my eyes to the true impact on someone who lived it. The same can be said for those in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, who were there and saw things unfold before their eyes. I only saw it on the screen and know the impact it had on me.
Twenty years later, many people seem to have the desire to sweep that tragic day under the rug, but I believe it is imperative we continue to honor this day, those lost, and those who will suffer for years to come. In the words of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” which was later paraphrased by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
So many young people living today have no memory of that time, as they were very young or they were not yet born and the anniversary of 9/11 is the only time they learn of the tragedies of that fateful day in America. People read the names, share the stories of their own loved ones, and bells are rung to signify the times of those four horrible incidents in our history, when planes were taken over by terrorists hell-bent on destroying the U.S.A. A field in the Pennsylvania countryside memorializes the heroes who lost their lives while bravely taking on these evil people, so that more tragedy did not take place in our nation’s capital.
For those of you who CAN remember, do you recollect that day? What about September 12? We seemed to all become ONE America. Certainly, flying an American flag in our front yards was an easy way to show our patriotism, but we did it. We did it because we were unsure what else to do. Many young people enlisted, many wrote songs, and still others vowed to not take their lives for granted and do good things.
Sadly, I have not felt that we are acting like it. I have seen, read, and heard more divided conversations today than I can remember in my 57 years on this earth. We are BETTER than this but we seem to have a my way or the highway mentality. I ask you, where does that get you?
Years ago, I took the Stephen Covey course, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of those habits stands out for me today. It is seek first to understand, then to be understood. We all fall short of that philosophy, but I beckon us to do better, to be better. Because we disagree on a topic doesn’t mean one side is wrong and the other side is right. Seldom are things black and white. We all have life events that affect our thinking. Putting everyone in the same category because we choose to do something or not to do something is wrong and unfair, in my humble opinion.
Today, I am struggling with people putting me in a specific category who know nothing about my situation. Sadly, I haven’t said anything to those individuals because I have seen their responses on social media about similar topics and I truly believe they will judge me because they are not willing to listen to my side of the story, so I remain quiet.
A few years ago, I heard former Mayor Rudy Giuliani say, “America was at its best that day.” While I know we can’t always stop tragedies like the one that happened two decades ago on what started out as a beautiful September morning, we can and should come together as Americans without having to rely on a tragedy to make it so.
I pray it doesn’t take another incident like 9/11 to remind us of how little time we have on this earth. I have said this before and I try to make it my mantra for life. “This is the only life we’re blessed to have. I want to get out and explore and know I really lived.”
I encourage you to live your dash. I remind you to never forget.
If you’ve followed any of my blogs, you know I love to shoot photography and share sunrises, sunsets, and photos of things I find to be beautiful that I capture through my camera lens. Many of my friends have commented on how much they love my photos.
I hesitate to tell this story but feel it is important I share it.
I’ll preface it with a tale from December 2018 when I bought a bow maker that gave you step-by-step instructions on how to turn ribbon into a beautiful bow for your Christmas wreath. I failed so dismally then, my husband made one in his wood shop out of sympathy for my lack of mental capacity to figure it out on my own. One would think I would have learned, but no.
Today, I decided to work on the lovely and thoughtful gift my friend, Lori Jo Thomas, gave me for Christmas recently, a Wondershop gingerbread kit that looks like a vintage camper, the kind I want to own some day.
This afternoon, I pulled out the contents of the box, which included the perfectly formed gingerbread cutouts that made up the camper, white and black icing, a bag of gumdrops, a bag of cute little candy light decorations, and cardboard cutouts of Santa, a tree, and a grill. I was disappointed that the red icing listed on the box wasn’t there, but thought this is not a problem. I’ll use the black icing and the bag of white concrete icing and make it work. How hard could it be?
Before I got started, I reviewed the photo on the box. Being a huge fan of cooking shows, I thought rather than use the bag of icing that came with the kit, I would transfer it to a ziplock bag and carefully snip the edge like I know Duff Goldman, The Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten and Martha Stewart could do in their sleep, if they didn’t have a piping bag. I would then effortlessly pipe beautiful straight lines like the picture on the box shows.
Once the structure was all “glued” together, I proceeded to the rooftop. Little did I realize the particular bag I used was described as a “stand-up bag for easy fill” so I didn’t know at the time I’d cut two little corners instead of one. Halfway through my first roof line, the icing blew out like panty hose packed into too heavy thighs. (Not that I’d know anything about that.) Rather than gorgeous icing lines, I got half-inch schmears like I was trying to put cream cheese on a bagel instead of piping icing on a rooftop. No sweat, I thought. I can clean this up. There’s no way, Duff, Martha, Ina, and Emmy got it in one take every time.
After attempting to clean up the mess that was my rooftop icing, I started on the gumdrop decorations. You’ll notice on my rooftop I only included the red ones. That’s because the OCD in me kicked in when I saw I couldn’t make a consistent row of matching gum drops unless I used all red. So I ate a green and orange one I had originally affixed on the roof, as they no longer made it into my color scheme, which apparently, I decided at that instance, was red.
I then started on the front of the camper and piped black icing around the windows and door, followed by a strand of icing that looked like the electrical for Christmas lights that were being hung. Once again, the OCD kicked in and I had to sort the lights in color order. By the time I had them separated out of the bag, (which when I opened it the first time, little candy lights flew all over the table and floor), the black icing was almost dry so I had to pipe even more black icing in order for them to stick. Of course, I ended up placing the wrong colors so had to yank those lights off the RV and replace them. Rather than throw the used candy lights back to be used again, I ate those, too, black icing and all. At one point, I looked like I’d been sucking on a ballpoint pen or brushing my teeth with charcoal.
Not seeing enough color in my decoration options and giving up my original all red thoughts, I went to the cupboard and found mini M&M’s and Reese’s Pieces. Knowing my husband would never forgive me for gluing his favorite peanut butter candies on something neither of us would be eating later, I went with the minis.
After OCDing my way through the rest of the decorations and the tires on the front of the camper, I got the the cardboard cutouts and, miraculously, put them together with zero incidents. That, in itself, is a Christmas miracle!
I then surveyed my work with no holiday fanfare. I didn’t immediately get the holiday spirit and hear the crooning sounds of Mel Torme or the harmonies of Pentatonix ringing in my ear. I got nothin’, not to be confused with “nuttin” from the ear-bleeding song “Nuttin’ for Christmas.”
Once he straightened up from bending over laughing so hard that he finally could catch his breath and wipe the tears from his face, he said through continued snickers, “Honey, you can buy stuff and put it around the house and make it look real nice, but you are not a crafter.”
I sit here eating the last of the gum drops that should have made it on the camper as I write this. I felt it was kinder that they make their way into the gastric juices of my stomach rather than be sacrificial lambs to the disaster that is this gingerbread arrangement.
As I write this, I stare at the remnants of the finished work that is my 2020 Holiday Gingerbread Camper. Notice I added 2020, since I believe I can chalk almost everything up to this year from, well, you know, rather than accept the simple fact that I have limited to no crafting ability.
To my friend, Lori Jo. You are such a thoughtful person. I hope you didn’t spend a lot of money and I really hope you weren’t expecting too much. Merry Christmas!
P.S. – The day after I wrote this blog and to add insult to injury, my husband decided to take on the Christmas Story gingerbread house I had purchased to make, as well. I don’t know what he’s trying to prove but… whatever. So, my dear reader friends, who I know love to read my blogs and won’t turn on me, it’s up to you to vote on your favorite. Please leave them in a comment. Seasons greetings!