Sticking with Your Strengths – A Christmas Story

My name is Diann Bayes and I am NOT a crafter.

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.

Don’t look too close.

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.

I was so excited to see the cuteness that was inside the box awaiting me.

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.

I carefully warmed up the icing by massaging the bag, like the instructions suggest. Okay, they don’t use the word massage, but since that’s what it feels like you’re doing, I’m going with that description, no matter now wrong it sounds. I then fed the now warm and softened icing into the Ziploc freezer bag. I pushed all the icing to one corner, like EmmyMade would do, and carefully snipped off a corner. When icing the sides together, I had no real issues except that a few bigger chunks of icing came out of the bag and caused a bit of a calking issue. I thought I could pull it off as a rustic look. All good.

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.”

My husband came in from working in the garage and couldn’t stop laughing. I noted no sympathy in his hysterics. Being the man that he is, he immediately took in the cookie “vehicle” right down to the tires and gumdrop hubcaps, and without missing a beat asked, “Are those nipples?”

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 that 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!

Lesson learned. Stick with your strengths, especially during the holidays!

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!

The Making of a Monarch – Nature’s Story

Many people had their eyes on the new season of the Netflix series, The Crown, over the past couple of months as we continue existing through the Covid 19 pandemic. Today’s post is not meant to take anything from Queen Elizabeth II, who I’ve greatly admired for years, along with the first Queen Elizabeth from the 1500’s, strong women who met challenges head on with strength, resilience, and grace.

While others were viewing their TV’s to see how the Princess Diana years would be presented on the screen, my husband and I had the opportunity to watch another monarch come into existence. QEII’s reign is far longer than the monarch I’ve grown to admire, but the same strength, resilience, and grace were present.

I’ve lived in San Angelo for nearly four years now. During that time, I’ve had the opportunity to see the monarch butterflies stop here on their way south to Mexico and the Oyamel fir tree forests, where they live through the winter months before making the flight back north in the spring.

This year, I prepared for the arrival of the monarchs by planting butterfly-friendly plants, including milkweed, the only thing the monarch caterpillar eats. In this case, I chose tropical milkweed which produces beautiful flowers that also attracts other butterflies, wasps, and bees. All good for the nature around me.

Why am I writing about my garden and butterflies, you may be wondering? With social media conversations including the topics of wearing or not wearing masks, voting Democrat or voting Republican, or choosing to stay at home or go to work because staying home isn’t an option in your job, I thought it was important to put something positive that I felt everyone could possibly agree on in this time of split decisions and endless debates.

That said, let’s talk about the miracle of the creation of the butterfly. Please know I’m not an expert, I’m merely sharing what I saw, nothing scientific and no use of terms I can’t pronounce.

On October 4, I went to the International Waterlily Gardens in San Angelo and walked behind the gardens to the trail along the Concho River. I got to see the monarch butterflies flitting around and landing on the pecan trees near the water. I knew it was only a matter of time before they arrived in my butterfly garden to lay eggs.
We got to watch as the fully-grown caterpillar left the milkweed and made its way to the top of the cage to find a place to transform into a chrysalis.
We even got to see a portion of the transformation. Not the best video, as I took it with my cell phone but you get the picture.
I was able to capture video of another monarch after it left the chrysalis. It’s amazing just how much is tucked away in the tiny shell to emerge as a full-grown butterfly. Nature’s miracle at work.

You may still be wondering the purpose of this blog, aside from sharing an interesting nature experience. Here it is. The Monarch Butterfly, notice I capitalize the name, lives only two to four weeks after it leaves the chrysalis. The entire process from egg to butterfly took between six and seven weeks. It took longer to produce this exquisite creature than it actually will live on this Earth.

When most of the people I talk to think of a butterfly, they think of the orange, black, and white butterfly, whether they know what it’s called or not. Most have no idea everything it goes through in order to even make an appearance. For those of us who have the great fortune to see it, we should feel extremely honored, which is why I capitalize its regal name and why I share this experience with you. I think of its magnificent beauty that only lasts a few short weeks but is ever present in our minds when we think of the butterfly. After all it goes through, I understand why it is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth or it is, in my humble opinion. I believe God’s handiwork had everything to do with its creation. You may disagree and that is your right.

In thinking of our own lives, we are not here long in the big scheme of things, considering the universe is 13.8 billion years old. Are we making the best of it? Are we showing our true beauty every day? Are we making a lasting, positive impression on others around us? I know I fail many times at this but it doesn’t stop me from continuing to try. I encourage you to make the best of the life you are given. If you don’t like your life right now, fix it. You are the only one who can. And when you do get your life back on track, my hope is you soar with the butterflies and live your best life, as it’s the only one we’re blessed to have. Get out there and soar!

The Way I See It – Election 2020

The following have been my Presidents, whether I voted for them or not, since I was of legal age to vote.

President Ronald Reagan (R)
President George H.W. Bush (R)
President Bill Clinton (D)
President George W. Bush (R)
President Barack Obama (D)
President Donald Trump (R)
President ??? (R or D)

I don’t know what the outcome of this year’s vote will be, but whoever it is, they will be my President.

That said, because I voted, I have the RIGHT to disagree with how they are running our country. I have the RIGHT to stand up when I disagree. I have the RIGHT to protest when I disagree.

I do not have the RIGHT to loot, threaten, or seek out violence against others because they voted differently. I do not have the RIGHT to threaten them or damage their property. I do not have the RIGHT to threaten my elected officials.

YOU have the RIGHT to disagree with me…because we live in the United States of America, no matter now divided the vote.

I will STILL respect the office of the President, even if I DON’T respect who’s sitting in the seat.

That is all!

If you must criticize, be constructive… not mean.

When I was in high school and college, I attended events where I competed in public speaking with a focus on pros, poetry, one-act play, and dramatic readings. As a teenager and young adult, it was difficult to receive written critiques stating areas of improvement I needed to make with my presentations. Though I was not confident in many areas of my life, I believed I was good at this and how dare someone correct me. I was in my element. One of my instructors shared with me why it was important, and I should take the constructive criticism to heart so that I could learn and improve. While it was a bitter pill to swallow for my young mind at the time, I discovered my teacher was correct, as were my critics. I reviewed their comments and worked to better my presentations in order to move forward on my academic path.

Fast forward almost four decades later where I work to promote to visitors in the hopes they will choose to come to my city. I share the quality of life message so people can see what a great place my community is to visit, work, and live. Forty years later I am still receiving criticism for the job I’m doing. However, much of it seems to be more mean than constructive.

For example, I took the photo above yesterday afternoon during a noon walk along the Concho River by my office. As an amateur photographer, I saw the clouds from my window and knew the reflections off the water would be incredible, so I snapped the photo with my cell phone. This is the original photo. NOT enhanced.

I admit I enhanced the photo I shared on social media, but only slightly. I increased the vibrant color because I didn’t think my cell phone captured the true colors I saw. I’ve done a comparison below to show the difference. The photo on the top is my original. The one below has the color enhancement. It was then shared on social media channels. 

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I recognize I could have left the photo alone and just posted the original, but I didn’t. The reaction? Overwhelmingly, people stated they loved it, loved our city, and loved living here. It was liked, loved, and shared by many and that continues to happen as of this writing.

While the positive comments were wonderful, much like my time as a teenager, I focused on the criticisms that included the following: “Holy Editing,” “Smoke and Mirrors,” and “The water never looks like this picture.”

Is the water blue? No. Again, my photographer’s eye knew the clouds would reflect off the water as would the blue sky. The reflective capture was what I was after.

The picture below was taken by me with my cell phone on a cloudless day. To me, it is still beautiful. I have shared many photos much like the bottom one before only to get similarly critical comments.

No alt text provided for this image

The point of this post is to say criticism, while not always welcomed, is important. However, criticism with no construction around it, only the desire to complain about things on social media without offering a solution to the problem is not helpful. Social media has opened the door to more and more of this criticizing nature.

Having lived in 20 different cities and towns in my life, some places for only a few shorts months due to relocation and waiting to move into a permanent home, I’ve seen this consistently in many of these communities. Whether it was a letter to the editor, a public demonstration, or a social media post, no solution was offered, just criticism.

I jokingly said to a friend this morning that when I read these comments, I want to ask the person (but I don’t), “If you are being held hostage and unable to leave this town, please let us know so we can send someone in to rescue you so you can get away.”

What started out as an innocent photo of the beauty of the day turned into a moment for me to think about my life and the life lessons I have learned. To those who consistently feel the need to criticize the community in which you live, I make this suggestion. If you don’t have a solution to the problem, please consider refraining from your criticisms. If you feel your town isn’t clean enough, get a group of people together along with trash bags and start picking up garbage. If your taxes are too high, help find a way to improve your community so that businesses will move there and help relieve your tax burden. If you don’t like the leadership in your community, exercise your right to vote. And if none of those solutions works for you, explore other options.

The United States is large. According to World Population Review, as of 2018, there are 19,495 incorporated cities, towns, and villages in the United States. If you don’t find a good fit in the U.S., there are always other countries. This is the only life we get on this earth. Why choose to be miserable, unhappy, and critical all the time? Find some place where you can enjoy the life you have. But remember this phrase published in The Kansas Farmer, February 1917:

Some people are never satisfied anywhere. The grass always looks a little greener on the other side of the fence.

Whether you go or stay, feel free to criticize but also offer solutions to improve your life, the life of your neighbors, and the vibrancy and success of your community. 

There’s Always Room for Hope

This morning as my husband and were drinking our coffee while mindlessly listening to the latest updates regarding COVID 19, we had a brief discussion of what items we might need from the grocery store. He had been a few days ago, along with other seniors who had the good fortune to go into the stores earlier than others.

I mentioned we could use some more oatmeal. His simple five-word comment threw me for a loop, “They were out of oats.” His statement was simply matter of fact. No grandiose delivery. No academy award winning moment. Just a simple phrase.

Sitting at my work computer at home during my self-quarantining because of international flights almost two weeks ago, I’ve continually read above COVID 19 and its rapid spread across our world. By the way, I have had no symptoms. Two months ago, I admittedly was not concerned. I am not too proud to say that, but I have no doubt others will deny their lack of concern so as not to be accused of being part of the problem rather than the solution.

How quickly things change.

Two weeks ago when I was working with other colleagues to market to Canadian media to promote travel to Texas, my colleagues and I turned from marketing to somewhat jokingly discussing options of how we could get home should they cancel flights. An epic road trip in a rental van was our solution, should we need to make a quick decision if flights cancelled. There’s nothing like the possibility of being stuck in another country to bring you back to reality pretty quickly, especially when you are told daily in emails that events in your community are being cancelled. We all made it home on our flights with no real issues, at least so far, and returned to our towns and cities to face our new reality.

Which brings me back to this morning…

In my life, I’ve seen gas shortages, weather catastrophes, and 9/11. All were frightening in their own way at the time, particularly the latter. While I felt sick for those affected, these events always felt at arm’s length. It was like looking into a snow globe and watching someone else’s reality take place. Not today.

A simple five-word phrase this morning over coffee, hit me in the face. “They were out of oats.” That phrase could have just as easily been, “They were out of disinfectant,” “They were out of apples.”

In my life, I’ve taken for granted something as simple as having oats for breakfast and believing it wouldn’t be an issue. What grocery store runs out of oats? In our current reality, ours does and so do other stores across the nation. It’s surreal.

It’s surreal that within just a few weeks, we can no longer dine in restaurants, only get takeout or order delivery. And, hopefully, people will do that. Events can no longer be held. Meetings of 10 or more are prohibited. Las Vegas hotels are closed for the first time since they opened. Let that sink in.

The industry I’ve loved and worked in for nearly 25 years is bleeding out. Colleagues are losing jobs. Housekeepers and wait staff are trying to figure out how to keep a roof over their heads, feed their children, and pay their utilities. Airports are empty. Vacations have stopped. Business people are no longer taking meetings. Everything that “starts with a visit” is at a standstill.

I write this out of my own nervousness but also to put the words on paper so that I can get them out of my head. I need to focus on being a productive person and help my industry, rather than allow the negative thoughts to consume me. I thought of one of my favorite quotes by Admiral Jim Stockdale this morning.

“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.”
― Jim Stockdale

As I recognize we may be out of oats today, people may have lost jobs today, the world looks like a scary place today, I also know this is our current reality. It is not permanent. We WILL survive this after we get through our five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That will involve tears, fear, laughter, prayer, and hope. No matter how full we are with our thoughts, there’s always room for hope. Hope is the jello of feelings. Yes, I wrote that. Don’t judge me right now. 🙂

So today, I work from my makeshift desk, looking out the window as the sun comes up. The mesquite trees are leafing out and the old timers would say there’s no longer going to be a freeze, meaning the temperatures will get warmer and people will want to breathe the fresh, warm air. I see the first hummingbird of the season, flittering around the multiple feeders to drink the sweet nectar and, hopefully, bring back friends to join it. Life is still good. Hope is in the air!