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!

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.

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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. 

Remember to breathe…

“A British porch is a musty, forbidding non-room in which to fling a sodden umbrella or a muddy pair of boots; a guard against the elements and strangers. By contrast the good ol’ American front porch seems to stand for positivity and openness; a platform from which to welcome or wave farewell; a place where things of significance could happen.” – Dan Stevens

Having lived in more than 20 cities and towns in my life, mostly in Texas, I’ve had many interesting conversations on porches. Some were heartwrenching and others lighthearted. I recently returned from a conference where the presenter, Roy Spence, talked about The Promisedland Project, and America’s new front porch. I’ve heard many motivational speakers in my life. While Mr. Spence may not bill himself as such, he certainly inspired me. I may not touch as many people as he can, it is my hope this blog provokes thought and maybe even action for those who choose to follow along.

I decided to call this first post, Remember to breathe, because I occasionally find myself guilty of going and going without taking the time to do just that. I don’t consider myself to be a workaholic, just a hard worker. I do take time off. In fact, in 2016, I took an entire year with my husband and our two dogs to live as Eccentric Nomads and see the southwest in an RV, but that’s another story.

As for the name of my blog, since I’m a southern girl and Native Texan, I decided veranda has a sexier sound than porch but for my purposes, the names are interchangeable. The word “views” has a double meaning for me, too. As an amateur photographer, I plan to share the literal views from the veranda, whether from the three I have at home or from others I have the good fortune to sit on in the future. I should add that our home is not grandiose with sweeping verandas. It’s 1,800 square feet with small front and back porches. The third porch is from a he-shed my husband built that happens to also have a porch.

The Porch on the He-Shed

So occasionally, I’ll share a nice photo of what I can see from the porch, like this recent view of the clothesline my husband made for me so we could have line-dried sheets and towels throughout the year.

Clothesline at sunrise

So here I sit on the back porch with a view of said clothesline, mesquite trees and bird feeders in the backyard, listening to the neighbor’s rooster crow, which happens all day and not just at sunrise, in case you’ve been told otherwise. I hear the cicadas in the distance and get an occasional glimpse of hummingbirds, when they take the time to stop and drink from the feeders hanging just a few feet away. A wasp and bee have decided I’m not a threat so they are hanging out on my table as I type, until they get tired of the pecking of my keyboard and fly off for other adventures. I can even see dung beetles rolling their finds from our dogs to some unknown location I choose not to explore. I suppose purpose is purpose, no matter what it might be.

Today is just an introduction. Should you choose to follow along with me on this journey, I hope we are able to find some hope, reason and common ground as we discuss the various topics, both comfortable and uncomfortable, of life. I have no interest in bickering with anyone, just having a conversation and seeing where we can go from there. Join me virtually or, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods in Texas, maybe we can have a glass of sweet iced tea in the spring and summer or a cup of coffee or cocoa in the fall and winter. If you have a hankerin’ for something stronger, I’m sure we can manage that, too. And if you’re open to sharing our conversation, I’d love to bring in your thoughts on this blog, whether in written or video form. In the meantime, make sure you take the time to breathe.