What Happened to Their Golden Ticket?

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.

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.

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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. 

Throwing Your Weight Around

Today’s view from my veranda is the garden my husband built me from repurposed lumber and an old door he got at a second-hand store. Over the weekend, I cleaned out the remainder of the garden, which consisted of a variety of tomato plants. They weren’t producing a lot and the tomato worms were having a party with the leaves, so I gathered them up and tossed them in the back part of our acre and let the worms have a field day. Meanwhile, I wait for the artichokes, lettuce, Brussels sprouts and greens to grow.

Recently in the news, late night talk show host James Corden responded to commentary about fat shaming by another talk show host that I choose not to mention. The host will be referred to as he-who-must-not-be-named, like in the Harry Potter books. My blog…my rules.

If you heard about the story, the other guy stated we needed to do more fat shaming in society. There was far more talk on his part but that about sums it up in the kindest way I can write.

Corden shared a rebuttal. I’ve always been a fan of Corden’s amazing musical talent and gift of gab, but he made me a bigger fan, pun intended, because of his eloquence. Pointing out to an adult male that encouraging fat shaming is another form of bullying is spot on.

Growing up, I was actually average weight. When I graduated from high school, I weighed 140 pounds at 5’9.” My parents went through a divorce when I was starting high school, but I still remained at a healthy weight. I played basketball, competed in speech, drama and one-act play competitions, and worked summer jobs as a waitress and then on the farm with family members, both in high school and college. If you look at the weight chart, you’ll see I was well under the healthy weight requirements suggested. I seem to remember the chart reading I should weigh between 128-168 and I think I may have peaked in college at 150. Women all over the south just fainted because I shared my weight range. Oh, I’m 55, for those women who were holding it together so as not to pass out the first time.

I remember when I looked at overweight people as a young teenager and in my early 20’s, I wondered how they got so large and let themselves go. I couldn’t really conceive it. Then life happened.

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire adult life. Wearing a size 8 wedding dress, I got married in my mid-20’s. A few years later at 27, I had a baby. I gained a significant amount of weight when I got pregnant and never really lost it, not because I wasn’t happy as a mother. Instead, I wasn’t happy as a wife, so I found solace in food. The weight literally kept piling on. I hadn’t seen 150 since my wedding.

A few years later, I went through a divorce, a bankruptcy, a foreclosure, and a move out of state and the weight actually came down. I found happiness in a new marriage, but this time I wore a size 14 instead of the size 8 from more than a decade earlier. A number of moves, new jobs, and other family challenges and the numbers began to climb once again.

I’ve had active moments. I’ve completed a half-marathon. I’ve trained with a heavy bag, building my upper body strength while getting rid of some frustrations. I’ve even worked out with the Wii, cursing the virtual assistant as I squatted, ran in place, and did lunges. I’ve owned treadmills, weights, and elastic bands. I currently have an exercise bike and an exercise ball in the spare bedroom.

I’ve yo-yo’d from 150-250. Yes. I have gained an entire young adult in my life, multiple times. And I’ve used self-deprecating humor to ease both my discomfort and that of others. I say I’m “twice the woman I used to be” or talk about the various sizes in my closet from 14-22.

I’ve never related to people who jump up and go for a run when they’re stressed. The last thing I want to do is apply more pain to my already out-of-shape body. Should I? Most definitely, yes. However, my choice tends to be to go in the kitchen and find the closest unhealthy snack I can find or cook something with the south’s favorite ingredients – butter and sugar. I’m a self-identified stress eater. If only my choices were a big salad with no salad dressing. I love salad but it’s not my go-to stress meal and probably never will be.

All this is to say, the struggle really is real for those of us who have been challenged with our weight most of our lives. I have yet to identify something in me that wants to continually maintain a specific diet, even though I truly know it works and that I should. I have moments when I look in the mirror and I’m good with how a look and then other times when I’m incredibly depressed about my body.

I admire those who are comfortable in their skin, whether it’s small or large. I have to admit that secretly I question if they really are comfortable since I can’t relate.

Will I always be overweight? I have no idea. What I do know is fat shaming is really not cool, even if you’re doing it to try and help motivate someone. As James Corden said, it doesn’t work.

I’ve had a lot of failures in my job, my marriage, and my parenting, but I’ve had far more successes in those areas, which is why this isn’t the easiest thing to admit. I know I’ve failed at weight loss/gain and I don’t like it. Will I do something about it? Absolutely. Will I be successful? Maybe. If I am successful, will I maintain it? I hope so. My track record would show otherwise.

So he-who-must-not-be-named will probably continue with the fat shaming and other people shaming that he is known for and it is his right to do so. Weight loss will be a challenge for a significant number of people around the world and not everyone will understand it. Could I “pull away from the trough” instead of eating? Yes. I hope some day to make those decisions easily. Until then, I await my garden of vegetables, yes, I do eat healthy more often than you might think. And as I gnaw on my next carrot or celery stick, I pray I’ll find the inspiration to do better with my body on a regular basis and not because of fat shamers. Here’s to a healthy mind, body and spirit.