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. 

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!

Oh, The Places I’ve Been

This week, I have a very different view from my veranda, since I’m not sitting on my back porch today. Instead, it’s a photo from my hotel room window in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, as I’m in town for a conference. I’m at The Worthington Renaissance Hotel, which also happens to be where I started my career in the travel and tourism industry 26 years ago.

View of Sundance Square and Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I only had one thing that I knew for sure, apologies to Oprah for stealing her line. I wanted to be out of the house and on my own.

Fast forward almost a decade after high school and college graduation. I was the mother of a 15-month old baby and a stay-at-home mom when my life took a turn. Without going into the personal details and dragging people into this conversation without being asked, I suddenly needed a job. I landed a provisional position with American Airlines, but due to the fact I had a little one at home and needed insurance, I worked there for only a few months until I was able to find something offering benefits. A job opened in the hotel, and the rest, as they say, is history.

For almost three decades, I’ve worked in some capacity in the hospitality industry. If you ask some of my closest friends and colleagues who know me well, they would probably tell you I’m not really that hospitable. In fact, one of my least favorite things to do in the world is networking with total strangers. Pretty odd for someone who’s made hospitality their chosen career.

That said, unlike many people I know, I have no problem getting in front of an audience of 500 and giving a speech or singing on a stage in front of a crowd. But throw me into a room with people I’ve never met and I want to go over to the corner and blend in with the indoor tree shrubbery until the evening or sneak out, grab my camera and photograph the area instead of talking to people.

The Thru Truss Bridge near the tiny town of Burkett. Snapped this on the way to my conference.

I took theatre classes in high school and college so I became pretty good at playing roles. I’ve applied those principles throughout my life in order to get through times that were hard for me. If I play the part, I win and others win. I can talk to them as VP of my organization and wear that hat and then as soon as I’m done and away from them, I’m just the woman who lives in the country and takes pictures of the backyard antics. It’s worked well for me for 26 years.

When I took the job at the hotel all those years ago, I had no idea at the time I would be working in the travel and tourism industry, helping market communities so that others might be inspired to visit them. Me? The play-acting introvert! I do love what I do but the creative part of me has a greater comfort level than the people person I am required to be in order to be successful.

While desperately needing to find a job in order to take care of my family was the original reason, I’m thankful every day for getting into this industry. As a young girl in a family with few additional funds available to spend on such lavish things as vacations, my career path has lead to many travel opportunities. I’ve visited 33 states in the U.S. and five countries. Not all have been affiliated with my job, rather they have been the benefit of having a job in travel and tourism. I’ve learned about some interesting place through work and then wanted to visit. Those places were added to a bucket list and I’ve slowly checked them off.

While in Fort Worth, I was privileged to visit the Whiskey Ranch.

Surveys I’ve seen state the average American only visits 12 states and three countries in their lifetime. Travel isn’t for everyone but I can’t imagine not having gone to any of these places, meeting the people, tasting the food, and experiencing the cities and towns.

Someone once said, “Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer.” For me, no truer statement has ever been made.

As I begin my 27th year in the hospitality, travel and tourism industry, I am extremely thankful for that forced opportunity all those years ago requiring me to find employment. It brought me to where I am today. I am also grateful for the places I’ve been and look forward to seeing more of this beautiful, blue planet we all call home.

I highly recommend you make time to travel. It doesn’t even need to be overnight. Go on a day trip to some place you’ve never been and check out the people, places and things that give it personality. You’ll be amazed at the benefit you’ll get from the places you go.

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas

The sun is rising so I must begin my day. Enjoy the views from your veranda!

The Buck Stops Here

The game cam caught this big guy in the backyard enjoying the corn we put out in our feeder. We occasionally see them during the day from the back porch but not often so it’s great to have eyes at night through another lens.

In seeing the buck and other deer on the game cam and on a camping trip we took over Labor Day weekend, it got me thinking about a phrase involving the buck from decades ago.

When President Harry S. Truman added the plaque to his desk at the Whitehouse that read “the buck stops here,” I wonder how many read it and took the words to heart?

In watching or reading the news these days, it seems we never fail to learn that someone has blamed others for their lack of success, their lack of commitment, their inability to keep their word, etc. From elected officials and celebrities to law breakers and company CEO’s and even others we see every day at work or elsewhere, no one seems to want to accept what happens because of their actions or the lack thereof.

Who wants to admit their failures and bad decisions? I certainly don’t but it’s really more of an internal battle for me rather than a worry about the consequences. I have certainly had to deal with decisions I didn’t like but I survived, far better than I thought I would.

It makes us feel uncomfortable to admit a decision was ours and we fear people will judge us for it. It seems easier to run away or cast blame on others, creating a smoke screen, rather than own up to something that didn’t work out the way we thought it would.

It’s easy to own our successes but owning our failures, not so much. If we can overcome the fear of the consequences we could face, we can get through it. And, yes, some of those fears might become reality, depending on what we’ve done. People might judge us, we might lose a friend, we might not get reelected, but we will know that the buck stopped with us.

Once we do own it, we give ourselves a chance to show our leadership, our courage and our ability to honor the word we gave in the first place. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll better understand how applying “the buck stops here” to our lives could be one of the most important things we ever do.

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.