Member Since: June 7, 05
My Most Loved Christmas Gift.
We all convened in the master bedroom for the opening of my gift. What transpired in the next few seconds overwhelmed me. Actually, overwhelmed doesn't quite do it justice. I was speechless. As I unwrapped the package I saw a book. More aptly, My Book. My daughter researched through Photographica and edited 48 of my stories, sent them to a publisher, and had my words published. It has always been a dream of mine to publish a book and she made that dream come true.
As much as I loved the book, there is truly a greater gift I was given that day. On lulu.com you can search "McNeel". The book will have a preview that includes her forward. Long after the pages fade, her love and adoration will live on within my heart. Many authors and poets have written volumes on life and it's meaning. But surely those greatest things evern penned were written upon the hearts of men.
Poetic Postcards... For Surfer Guy
is her dress.
And morning’s sun
Will her caress
And hold her soft
As lovers often do.
Whispers, I listen
To all she has to say,
Beneath the din
Of those who’ve come to play.
I tell the tale, of her spell,
As poets often do.
The American Flag...
Growing up in school I can remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance. It doesn’t stand out as a monumental event. It was just part of life, as natural as playing in the mud or saying grace for supper. We just did it. In school we learned about the birth of America, and the foundational principles that make our country so great. Still, school was basically just school, and while I was glad and proud to be an American, it is really all I had ever known. The flags that dotted the landscape were beautiful, but were at the time, simply flags. That was then.
In 1978 I joined the Fire Department and in 1985 I joined the Army National Guard. It was then the epiphany occurred. As I raised my hand and swore to defend The Constitution of the United States, something changed. I remember being told that someday I might have to die for my flag, and what it stood for. It was a wakeup call. A flag was more than an adornment of the school stage, or an eye catcher at the local hardware store, it was truly THE symbol of principles that are central to what I believe in, and would die for. Many have fallen in service for our country. On May 14, 2006 my cousin Chief Warrant Officer Jamie Weeks was shot down in Iraq. He was given a memorial service befitting the hero he was. Beyond a medal, the only tangible thing the family was given was an American Flag. To see how the flag is handled is to be in awe. It is to witness human hands holding what is sacred. The flag is a symbol of courage, compassion, service and duty. It covers the serviceman’s casket, and it bears witness to his ultimate sacrifice.
On September 11, 2001 our country was reminded that we are at war constantly against those that hate our freedom, and all we stand for. We are also tragically reminded that soldiers are not the only ones that pay a price in this war. Firefighters, Police Officers, Paramedics, and many civilians lost their lives that day. When a Firefighter or Police Officer dies in the line of duty, the casket is covered with the flag. Because of their heroic sacrifice, they are honored. In many ways, flags are flown to pay respect to those who we have lost. It is the ultimate sign of respect and honor one can bestow to another.
Daily at our station we fly the flag. I go to NASCAR, and they honor the flag. Even driving through my city, I see the flags flown at businesses, sometimes miles away because they are so big. But big or small, they are more than fabric, they epitomize the strength, character, courage, resolve, and willingness that ensures our country will survive. When I see disrespect shown to the flag, especially someone that lives under its protection, they don’t just devalue a piece of fabric but they devalue the life of every soldier that has died to protect their freedom. They devalue the life of every Firefighter and Police Officer that has given their life to protect others. They devalue the symbol of the greatest nation on earth.
As I was thinking about writing this post, I drove by the local Harley shop. Normally I would day dream about those beautiful bikes but today was different. Today I thought about that flag and all that it means. I am proud to be an American, 1 nation under God.
My mother was the storybook mom. She could cook, sew, and I am sure in an all out duel, could clean June Cleaver’s plow. One thing she did very well was shop. If there was a bargain to be found, she would find it. A bargain that always filled my older brother’s and my heart with cheer was an ice cold, vine ripened watermelon. Nowadays smart moms carve out a slice for each kid and send them to some safe haven of carpet-less fashion and let them have at it. For my brother and me, it was a lesson in civility; we had half a melon that we had to share. And as we grew so did the family. Once my first sister was old enough to earn her right at the round table, a more coordinated attack on the melon was in order. There are 2 types of watermelon connoisseurs. Those patient partakers de-seed the melon and enjoy remaining melon without the hassles of those pesky seeds. Others, like me, tend to cut out the heart much to the disdain of the aforementioned. However you slice it, it was and still is one of my much enjoyed pleasures of childhood.
Even kids have their parts of life that they must deal with. School is one of the first major milestones (sure there is potty training but I am not taking a picture of a toilet even if I can Photoshop it). When it was time to get ready to get our pencils and big chief writing tablet, we always made a stop at my uncle’s store. There we got to choose our own cigar box for our pencils and assorted supplies. Taking our supplies to school in a yellow King Edward box made you feel like a 3rd grade renegade. Now at 47, my Uncle Harold has passed, and his store is gone, but an empty cigar box takes me back to a time when life was good.
As a kid I had all my needs provided for, but my wants (i.e. latest issue of cycle world with my heroes Bob Hannah or Roger DeCosta) were up to me to provide for. To fund my picturesque training manual for being America’s next great young motocrosser, I mowed yards. But I found scavenging the neighborhood for coke bottles was a fast way to get some change for a coke of my own. I dreamed of being everything from a racer, a runner, and perhaps even the next Jacques Cousteau. I never dreamed of being a fire fighter and now, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. But the key to life was actually locked into all those imaginations of a child; anything was a possibility.
Another favorite activity of childhood was the gathering of the mother-lode, or as capitalist America likes to call it, Halloween. All the young actors and actresses get dressed, and they are ready for their roles. Little Princesses grace the streets, and Mothers’ Little Demons now actually look the part. And all have 1 quest in mind, getting all the candy they can. There are many treats I recall as a child. I remember the wax treats that had juice inside, cracker jacks, and sweat and sours. I don’t have a clue what my favorite was then, but hands down now it is gummy bears. They remind how fun it is to enjoy something quite simple, and many times for under a buck and a half.
Another wonderful treat was to visit my Grand daddy and Granny in the country. We climbed up the Big Red Hill like it was Mount Everest, and we ran and chased fire flies, and cooled down with homemade ice cream. I can remember the sound of the ice cream maker turning in the barrel grating against the ice, and how quickly you tired cranking on it. But it was well worth it. It was pure pleasure. Time changes things. The Big Red Hill seems more like a red clay embankment for a road, and I can’t think of when was the last time I saw a fire fly. Now we are so busy, we usually duck into the local Dairy Queen for a treat, but it still reminds me of those fun filled days in the country.
These days I live and work in a very much adult world. All around us is pain and suffering, heartache and loss. But there is still much amazement and wonder to discover. One reason I love to spend the day with my daughter is she knows how to just enjoy the moment. It seems much of life we spend trying to grow up, then keep up with all the other grown ups. Sometimes we should step away from the rat race and remember how to view life and live life as a child.
Sometimes God Looks Like Scooby Doo...
A charitable childrens organization recently gave the Fire Department some stuffed toys to give away to children that have been involved in traumatic events. For the past few shifts "Scooby" has been my side rider. I am quickly growing fond of Scooby being there (although as of yet he hasn't found any of my jokes funny). Someday Scooby and I will have to part. I hate that. Mainly because it will mean that some child has just been involved in a wreck, or their home is on fire. Perhaps they would have just lost their favorite toy, or pet, or worse yet, a mom or dad. When such a day comes, life doesn't make sense. Life isn't fair. Life hurts in ways they could have never imagined. They will need something to hold onto. They will eagerly latch onto anything that will bring comfort, anything that they can touch. On that day Scooby will be the silent hero. He will spend the night, and most of the rest of his existence being there with them. A symbol of something that remains, a constant, a hope, and a comfort.
I pray that such a day never happens, but history has taught me it is inevitable. I pray for the safety of those that will travels the roads tonight and those that sleep. And if something goes wrong, we will be there, doing our best to make a bad day better. And when we the firefighters, ems and police officers can't make it better, most assuredly God will be there. A source of comfort and hope. I believe God is everywhere...
Sometimes, He just looks like Scooby Doo.
A Not So Straight Line…
Our journey began with Jana giving my special book, which was more like a keepsake box. Her plan was detailed in a smaller book that was artfully produced with all the love and creativity she could muster. She jump started my day at Starbucks and with a triple shot of caffeine in my system I was ready for our day of memories.
Several miles down the road, I got a first peek at the days events. She found a website that gives photographers a random list of 26 things to capture. Instantly we both started brainstorming on all sorts of ways we could combine 2 or even 3 of the ideas together. Creative minds love to wander down roads that seem to go nowhere to others, but somehow make sense to their owners. As we approached a bridge, I thought of the word transport, I also thought about the differing lines on the bridge. Quicker than the speeding traffic my mind wandered down scattered thoughts on lines. A straight line is the shortest distance between 2 points. But is it the best route to take. In life it is easy to become focused on the end result. Making it to the top, making it to retirement, getting married, and getting a house, getting a better house. Everything seems to center on where you end up, not as much on how you got there. This day caused me to think about the process, the trip itself, and all the moments we would share. It made me appreciate the not so straight lines, perhaps life’s little surprises, which can add so much to one’s life.
ur first stop was at Texas Xtreme Choppers, passing by a Fire Station and then ending up at a Boardwalk in Kemah. We visited shops such as Thomas Kinkade where we picked up a nice night light and a Christmas shop where we just picked up some cool pictures. Magical places where a princess feels at home with Kings and Princes and you believe anything is possible. We took a break from the shops to get our picturetaken. Jana makes even sitting for a picture a fun experience.
Soon we worked up an appetite and went to the Aquarium restaurant where Jana did a rather impressive fish imitation. There were several photo opportunities with fountains all around us. But the coolest place to be was the cool zone. I had no doubt that to find the true definition of the word “glee” I would have to do nothing more than sit near the water spray and wait for a kid to arrive. While some were a tad apprehensive, others got lost in the fun of the moment. On the other side of the boardwalk, kids young and old alike were thrilled by the rides. Jana had planned a ride on the ferris wheel wheel. Other tamer rides were fun to capture and even got me my stripes picture I needed.
We found time to reflect on all the little things that make a moment great. That was her plan after all; to go on a treasure hunt of mementos and memories. I found other neat photos of means of transportation (that one of the jo’s might be familiar with) and got an ant's eye view of another overhead. Another little piece of transportation seemed more likely to be appreciated by Mrs. N unless of course she was with one of the Jo’s. telephone was rather easy to find, and we found a copy of the Osbourne family.
The day was still young so Jana and I decided to venture over to Galveston Island. We found little treasures like Kerry our adopted sea turtle. Jana is quite the bargain hunter, and always on the side of the underdog. So while at a gift shop she had me pick one of the wounded animals for adoption. She picked Elle, a 3 legged elephant, while I chose Hip, a 1 eared hippo. We stopped and picked up picnic supplies and went down to the beach. I found a neat statue that fit the art category Another neat picture was a couple walking by the sea (ok you perfectionist, I know it’s a gulf, but lets not get picky). The sunset was beautiful, a capstone to a perfect day.
After all was said and done, we had filled our box with little mementos of the day, and our heart with memories of each moment. During the day I got lost once, side tracked many times, didn’t get some of the pictures I would have wanted to, and never really counted to see if I got all 26 of the categories. In the end, it wasn’t about the lists; it was about the trip, and who I was spending the day with. It was about enjoying the simple things, and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.
I feel blessed to have a daughter that loves me so much to do all this for me. I feel with deepest conviction that the fastest way through life bypasses many of the things that make up the importance of life. My encouragement to others is to slow down the frantic pace, and enjoy a moment. If you’re stuck in traffic, find a tune you love and let your spirit dance. Whatever it takes, find ways to make memories that will trace the paths your life course will take. It is more than getting there… make sure you enjoy the trip.
Show the Difference
Color My World...
Response to a Challenge- On Rocks and Doors
Tosh was stuck again at the drawing board. The numbers were off and his job was to get them back on. As a young civil engineer, his challenge was to take art and math and blend the 2 together. This fitment wasn’t always easy. But if aesthetic structures are to stand the test of time, they have to be strong. So once again he found himself crunching the numbers, refining the design. Like always he would get it done. He always did. That’s why they brought him in from Dallas. He understood numbers, they made sense. He wished understanding women were as easy. Not that he wanted an easy woman. Rather, he longed for a lady that was a challenge, but one that he could figure out. One that was strong, yet graceful. A woman that was unlike the countless others he had met and forgot. He longed for someone different.
Cami made her cursory stop at the coffee shop. Carl smiled as she spun through the door. “One Cami Slammy coming up.” Cami was more than a regular, but a self proclaimed java junkie who now had the privilege of having her own named drink at Java Joe’s. Although not on the menu, Carl knew it well, extra large Caramel Latte, 4 shots of espresso, and chocolate whipped cream. This was just what she needed to jump start her morning. But today wasn’t about clients and deadlines. It was about goals. It was about a plan. It was about finding Mr. Different.
Once in her office she and her assistant began to brainstorm. Michael was smart, a good listener, wonderfully organized, and also understood being in a boyfriend slump. And as for Mr. Different, well, Michael was the epitome of different although Cami wasn’t looking to win someone over to the heterosexual side. But he was compassionate to her cause, and she needed some help, and Michael was willing. Soon the brainstorming became endless stories and eventually some sort of office therapy for Michael and one especially hard breakup that occurred on his 30th birthday. Cami realized that Michael still had his own issues to deal with and she was getting hungry so she put the project finding Mr. Different on hold and went to find some lunch instead.
Dining at the Mandarin was always a special treat. General Tso’s chicken, shrimp fried rice and a fortune cookie all as she dined on a balcony above the masses. She opened her fortune cookie, and it read “Where there are many, there is still the one.” Where there are many… she thought about that. Her brain tossed the words about, as if to decode the magic message that would end her dating slump. She wasn’t into the bar scene, street corners were out, but she had thought about that speed dating idea. And true, there were many there. Her chances would be statistically better. Now she needed the questions. Better yet, she needed the answers. Her brain launched into hyper-mode as her creative genius fired at super sonic speed. She ordered 2 dozen fortune cookies to go and raced back to the office. She had her plan cooking away, and perhaps tonight may be different.
Tosh had worked most of the night and true to his word, by mid morning the work was done. The numbers were dead on, and both the architects and the bean counters would be pleased. But he was spent, and he opted to bug out of the office early. Once back at his apartment he had a power lunch consisting of a half of a ham and cheese sub and washed it down with a Tosh-inator. Tosh had his own drink of sorts, though no one else was known to have tried it. It consisted of ½ a cup pineapple juice, ½ a cup peach juice, 1 cup vodka, 1 Equal and 1 smashed Centrum vitamin. He always rested well after a Tosh-inator, and this time was no different. Tosh’s deep slumber was abruptly halted when his alarm clock, perched roughly a foot away from his head, went off. Semi-awake, dazed but now unable to sleep, Tosh stumbled back to the kitchen to find something to eat. As usual, there were slim pickings which meant starve or go foraging for sustenance in some public place. The later required a change out of his sponge bob boxers, well, at least covering them and donning his shoes. Soon Tosh was out the door, still not quite himself but alert enough to start in the right direction for food. His outing would prove to be a most intriguing one.
As the sun dropped behind the towering buildings, the electric glow of downtown began to grow. From buzzing neon’s, street lamps, to chandeliers, there is an energy exuded from all that manmade light that just awakens you. And at Katz, a very popular place to wine and dine, there were 3 levels of varying lights. The basement was reserved for those nocturnal creatures that require only minimal lighting and opt for the glow of neon over candle light. The candle light crowd was actually occupying the 3rd floor, where linen napkins and piano music were more at home. Sandwiched in between was the ground floor, boxed in by 2 walls of glass, and drenched in golden light and dotted with mirrors. Those inside are showcased much like jewelry for sale. And every 3rd Friday of the month Katz has a speed dating ritual that may be viewed from the safety of sidewalk, or much more personally at the tables that line the front. It was at table 5 that Cami sat with her pile of fortune cookies and her plan. Though no one knew of her plan, her cookies hadn’t gone without notice. It was customary for the ladies to sit at the tables first and then the guys would draw numbers, and then the ensuing rotations. Several guys had taken note of Cami but most were unsure about her fondness of fortune cookies. A few minutes before the frenzy was to begin, Tosh was walking by. Behind the glass, beneath the lights, fiddling with a pile of fortune cookies, she was there. He had to meet her.
Tosh was the last to draw a number and as luck would have it, he was to start at table 6. Within minutes the craziness began. Six minutes to decide do you even wish to see or hear anything from the person opposite of you, ever again. Tosh was trying not to be rude, or for that matter to obvious that the lady at table 5 had captivated his attention. He tried his best to multi-task, politely conversing with very chatty young lady at the table while trying to listen to table 5. Unfortunately, not all the affects of the Tosh-inator had worn off. He gleaned bits and pieces, but only enough to truly confuse his normally bright but presently chemically depressed brain. At each table, Tosh found himself ever more frustrated, both trying to offer a token conversation while trying to figure out table 5. With each passing 6 minutes he grew closer to finding out. He grew closer to learning more about this mysterious young lady. He inched closer to table 5.
Finally the moment arrived. He sat across from her. He found himself entranced with her. Although she was obviously tired of the futility of the night thus far, her eyes still had an undeniable sparkle that stated emphatically, “I love life.” Cami broke the silence with a simple introduction. Tosh, wanting to engage this young lady with his best, thought provoking, heart captivating, sincere and well spoken words was quite mad at himself when all that came out of his mouth was, “Hi.” Cami, having practiced these 11 previous times was well prepared to toss out the challenge one last time. At first glance, she did find this still nameless face kinda cute, cute just wasn’t good enough. She wanted, she needed something more. Tosh noticed all but two of the fortune cookies had been opened. Pushed to the side were all the other opened ones, like a pile of rejects. He feared that he would soon join this pile of rejects if he didn’t pull it together. “Tosh” he blurted out. A small sigh of relief ensued, now that he knew he wasn’t destined to remain mute in the presence of this most interesting and beguiling one known as Cami.
She leaned forward to whisper the challenge. This would have normally been a good thing, for close is good. Closer is even better, that is until one is so close as to smell the perfume, become somewhat intoxicated by it on top of the residual affects of what had to have been an extra large Tosh-inator. Her lips were moving, quite gracefully. Soft, sexy, but what did they say. This time Tosh was excruciatingly aware of his own silence. He humbled himself to ask her to please repeat what she had said. “I said,” speaking with a little more deliberation, “Open the last 2 cookies. Tell me if they are true, and if so why.” Up till now, no one had given her an answer that had even teased her interest. She wanted clever, insightful, and creative. She had heard stupid, cheesy, totally unrelated and even glances back indicating her game was relatively a waste of time. She even had 1 man that asked if he could eat the opened cookies, but nothing that had captured her fancy. Now she waited for the night to be done and over.
Tosh fumbled with the first cookie. As he opened it, he read it aloud. “What is behind closed doors cannot be seen.” He opened the last one and read “Hearts beneath stone feel no love.” As Tosh looked up at Cami, her countenance had changed. A mix of surprised and disturbed, she quickly got up to excuse herself. Tosh quickly stood up, in actuality too quickly. The room began to spin and soon he lost focus of Cami, the room, and the lights. When Tosh came to, Cami’s intoxicating scent was gone. What he did smell was the floor, where many an intoxicated person possible spilt their drink. Paramedics asked him what his name was, and what day it was. Lack of food, stress, and the remnant effects of his homemade tonic proved to be too much for Tosh. Although not fatal, it seemed to have killed the hopes of Tosh getting to know Cami better. It would appear that fate would have them go their separate ways. It would seem, but that answer just wasn’t good enough for Tosh.
Sunday came and Cami didn’t want to venture out yet. Normally Cami and Michael had brunch at Carlo’s and caught up with the drama, or lack there of, in each others weekend. The doorbell rang and a peep through the glass revealed one animated and somewhat concerned Michael outside her apartment. Cami was very closed about herself but was finally convinced to debrief the entirety of Friday’s fiasco to Michael. When she fumbled around the last of the speed dates, Michael picked up on her uneasiness. After much entreating and gentle coaxing, Cami explained her response to the last of the cookies. “When I was in High School, I went steady with a guy named Tom.” Cami searched and sifted carefully, finding the words to relay a time in her life she had really tried to forget. “Long story short, he gave me a heart, he stole my heart, and he broke my heart.” Michael had his heart broken by a guy named Tom as well, and could feel her resurrected pain. She stared at the closet. Finally she got up and opened the door. In the corner, beneath 3 rocks was a box. The rocks had been collected by her mom, dad, and Cami while on vacation. They had worked well in covering the box that had only 2 items in it. There was a card that read “Always and Forever” and a heart shaped locket on a thin golden chain. She played with the locket as they choked their sorrows down with 2 pints of Ben and Jerry’s. Such is life, it seems.
Tosh woke up wondering how much had happened to him was a dream, and what was real. He did have 2 wadded up fortunes that he had miraculously kept through the whole passing out, interrogation by paramedics, and cab ride home ordeal. Now, no longer a prisoner to an over-medicated brain, the wheels began to turn inside of Tosh’s masterful mind. Cami, and who and where she was, was simply at the end of an equation. Tosh was brilliant at equations. Clues emerged from the cluttered darkness of the most remote parts of his recollections of that Friday night. He heard her mention something to a guy about advertising. She had bought a lot of fortune cookies. And perhaps she had made the call to 9-1-1. Well, there were dozens of places to get fortune cookies within walking distance. That wasn’t too helpful. But the 9-1-1 call, now that could be the ticket he thought. Fortunately, Tosh knew a receptionist that dated a fire fighter that knew a dispatcher who was very close to a supervisor who could pull the tape of the call. In less than 24 hours he had a name, “Camille Tanner, 555-2972.” Her name repeated over and over. Tosh’s first impulse was to call, just to hear her voice once again. But what would that accomplish? After all, his first impression wasn’t the things happily ever after are made of. He needed a plan. He needed the answers to those questions. He needed to scout out Cami to get a chance with her again.
It pays to persevere. After only 38 calls to advertising agencies, and asking for Cami, Tosh finally got a positive hit at Parker Promotions. Tosh had a mission now, a purpose, a hope. As Tosh went out the door, the pieces were coming together, the equation becoming clearer. This would be his day, he thought. Surely it would be his day.
At 229 Merchant Ave. stands a stately 37 story building. In the lobby, one is greeted with marble floors and exquisite touches of brass and mahogany. The directory, much like an antique piece of art, showed Parker Promotions on the 15th floor. Wearing a disguise comprised of jeans, jersey, cap and sunglasses, and holding onto a package, Tosh hoped to blend into the crowd as just a local delivery person. He took the elevator up to 14 then the stairs for the last floor. Slowly opening the door we scanned across the floor. Receptionist at 2 o’clock, water cooler at 9 o’clock. He surveyed the layout, finally noticing a desk that said Cami Tanner with no one there. With a surge of boldness he opened the door and announced to the receptionist that he had a package for Miss Tanner. He walked over to the desk and left the plain brown paper wrapped package on the desk, offering a wave to the receptionist, adding no signature was needed. As he hit the elevator button, Tosh grinned, pleased with his plan. On the ride down he thought how clever he was, and now how close he was to meeting Cami again.
Cami was out for lunch with her cohorts. The Fab-Five was noted for taking a long lunch break on Mondays. Michael was normally bored, awaiting his playfully creative boss’s return. But today was different. Michael returned from picking up his lunch to find a plain brown envelope on his desk. No name, no explanation. Simply, a plain brown envelope, begging to be opened, lay on the desk. He opened it. His heart skipped a beat. Wrapped in a monogrammed linen napkin from Katz, scented with Geir, by Geir Ness, was a parchment note that said, “No longer in the closet… and with an open heart, I seek the answers from you.” The words fell off the page and onto Michael, covering him like a warm southern night that leaves one feeling flushed and breathless. A small card was inside with an invitation, 9 pm, Katz, 2nd floor. Michael fluttered about the office for the next 2 hours and finally gave in to the overwhelming urge to primp for the upcoming night out. Cami still hadn’t made it back to the office but she would have to wait till the morrow to get the scoop. Time was wasting and Michael had a place to go and a person to see. He breathed in the note one more time as he glided out of the office. This was his day he thought. Surely this was his day.
Tosh knew that he wasn’t that great at figuring women out. He knew at times he was clueless. But, to a mathematician, an unknown is just another variable. And it seems that if one is willing to spend 58 bucks at Wong’s Emporium, you can get 2 dozen fortune cookies printed up with anything you wish. Tosh sat at a private table on the second floor of Katz’s in front of a pile of 2 dozen custom made fortune cookies. His plan was coming together. Nervous but cautiously optimistic, he waited. He made a quick trip to the restroom, hoping to not have anything like a full bladder distracting him when Cami arrived. During his absence, Michael arrived at the table. Michael sat and was overwhelmed with it all. Candle light, soft music, and all those adorable little cookies, and some undisclosed Mr. Wonderful playing such an entreating game with him; it was almost too much to bear.
When Tosh returned from the restroom he saw a strange man opening every single cookie on the table. Each one read “I don’t know what it means, please teach me, and I am yours.” Before Tosh could say anything Michael took note of the handsome man approaching. In a pitch of glee just slightly les than that which shatters glass and sends canines to baying, Michael screamed out an elated “Yes, yes, yes I will teach you.” Although not what he would consider a homophobic, Tosh had an extremely hard time computing what had just happened. Where was Cami? Whose is this guy? Questions began to swim around in Tosh’s head. Before he could sort through it all, Tosh found himself in a lip-lock with a total stranger and the room spinning at lightning speed once again. As he came to he recognized the familiar voice of paramedics asking those questions to establish alertness and orientation. “What are the odds” Tosh thought. Still feeling flushed he pondered the irony that the same medics would answer the call. This time the paramedics decided to go ahead and transport, not sure what was going on but thinking this guy should be checked out. Michael begged the medics to ride along, but seeing how he wasn’t family and didn’t even know the gentleman’s name, he was forced to disembark the ambulance. As the unit left for the hospital Michael wondered if he would ever see Mr. Wonderful again.
Tuesday morning Cami stopped in to pick up her special caffeinated pick-me-up. And once in the office was ready to ease into another day of work, gossip and perhaps something different for lunch. Now, Michael was the distraught one. She listened as Michael described what all had happened. Michael had the unique ability to take a short story and turn it into a Broadway production, but then again, that was just part of his charm. Somehow something felt vaguely familiar about this story, and about this man. Michael, still feeling flushed from the thought of the young man recounted, “He is about 5 foot and 11 inches tall. He is about 173 pounds, give or take… and I would take, and, and, and...”. “And what” Cami asked. Michael wasn’t known for stuttering. “And he is standing at the elevator.” Cami turned and looked towards the elevator. There he was. Mr. Speed Date was Mr. Wonderful who was Mr. Faint, who also was Mr. Different.
“I am sorry about the other night” Tosh said in a soft genuinely apologetic tone. “It’s ok,” Cami and Michael replied in unison. They smiled, although Michael’s smile was quickly followed by a sigh, conceding that Mr. Wonderful was not to be his Mr. Wonderful. Cami didn’t have to know he was Mr. Right, Mr. Perfect of Mr. Wonderful. She was ready to open her heart again, ready to take a chance. She just wanted someone a little different that was worth the time. Perhaps he was the one.
They visited for awhile and then Tosh had to let Cami finish up at work. They set a date for that night and as he left she slipped something into his hand. As the elevator doors closed he gazed back at her. He saw that same sparkle, that life in her eyes. He had hope once again. On the ride down he opened his hand and found one of the fortunes that he had made up for her. Beside his entreaty to her, she simply penned a happy face and the word yes. “Yes is a good word,” he thought. Today was going to be his day. Surely...
Dining Alfresco… 1000 (1,731 actually) Words on Life
Sometimes in life, things need a little extra attention. And on a hot summer day just outside of Albuquerque their van needed a lot of attention. Kenny poured their 24 pack of Sam’s bottled water into the radiator and prayed for the Sadie to keep on keeping on. Kenny had named the van after Tessa’s Aunt Sadie who was a tad temperamental and who’s back in was wide and boxy too. Love, prayer and the spirit of adventure kept the young couple going, but then again, it was only day two.
Day three started early and with hopes of sleeping in their home that night. Their home being a quaint cottage that they had found for rent, and sleeping meant unpacking the air mattress and inflating the meager bedroom suite. But truly that is all they longed for today, to start their life. Kenny had been in and out of foster homes most of his life. Tessa had enjoyed a wonderful family until a tragic accident had claimed the lives of both her parents. Her last 2 years of high school had been hard and Aunt Sadie was all the family she knew. But now Tessa and Kenny would start their life, together. All they had to do is make 327 more miles.
Kenny had stocked up with motor oil and engine coolant at their last Walmart stop. Now at every bathroom or burger break he would nurse Sadie back onto the road. As the miles slowly ticked away they both thought that she might actually make the trip. Kenny took a detour to try and find a place for all 3 of them to rest when finally Sadie gave up the ghost. Smoke, steam and some eerie popping sounds poured from under the hood. Although Kenny didn’t readily admit they were lost, Tessa could see the despair and concern but what could they do. As Kenny popped the hood and surveyed the damage, Tessa took out their Walmart goodie bag and prepared an impromptu picnic. About the time that Kenny was about to give into insanity he looked over at his bride. There in the shade of some trees she had spread her favorite Snow White blanket. Her mom had given it to her and she had kept it through the years. With 2 diet cokes, a bag of chips, a sandwich and his favorite treat, Gummy Bears, she waited for him. Somehow he knew it would be ok, he just didn’t know how.
For 1 hour and 27 minutes no a car passed down the road. Kenny knew he would have to do something, but then he heard a sound. It was an old Chevy pickup pulling up to poor Sadie. The door squeaked and creaked as it opened, and an elderly gentleman stepped out. When he broke the silence asking if they needed help, both Kenny and Tessa knew their prayers had been answered. The man softly introduced himself as Sam, and pointed back to his truck where his wife was, and said “..and that’s Mollie.” Sam had bought Mollie a dinette set, which occupied the majority of the truck bed, and they were on their way home when they noticed the broke down van. “Where ya’ll going?” inquired Sam. Kenny explained and Sam offered to give them a ride. Sam and Kenny unloaded the dinette set and then transferred all of their belongings to the truck. Kenny was worried about Sam leaving the table and chairs there but Sam assured him it would be ok. Kenny never really found out exactly where Sam and Mollie lived, but he did learn a lot what kind of people they were. For the next few cramped but pleasant hours they talked and laughed. Sam reminisced about how him and Mollie had started, and thought to himself how these two young ones were much the same. Kenny was thankful for their generosity and Tessa saw the way Mollie looked at Sam, just like she looked at Kenny. Love is truly amazing.
That night as they pulled into town, all was pretty quiet. Most of the traffic had slowed and the shops were closed. The town square was surrounded by large oak trees that were like giant umbrellas for the courthouse. And beautiful azaleas dotted the courtyard with splashes of color. It was easy for these two from the city to be seduced by the simply beautiful country charm. As they neared the southern part of town, they turned down the street where home would now be. A failing picket fence was held up mostly by luck and blooming wisteria. The cracked white paint still held charm in its fading state. As they unloaded all their belongings, an easiness settled on them. Sam and Mollie said they had to get going, so hugs and handshakes were exchanged and it was time for goodbye. “When ya going back for your van?” Sam inquired. Kenny wasn’t sure, as life seemed a bit more uncertain now. “Don’t know, but as soon as I can” Kenny replied. With another smile and wave their new friends were gone.
That night Kenny and Tessa think about the frustration of the air conditioning not working, the 12 minutes spent trying to pry the windows open, the 23 ½ minutes of getting the air mattress inflated and the feeling of just how long a day in Texas can be. But they also remembered the picnic, the generosity of good people, the clean fresh air, and the magic of fire flies that danced outside their window throughout the night. Tomorrow we start our life together.
The new day brought about much change. Kenny had to start at the local newspaper and Tessa was trying to get their house in order. Days melted into weeks and soon a month had passed. Kenny had bought a slightly more dependable truck and was able to borrow a trailer. Now, on the month anniversary of their Sadie’s passing they went to retrieve her for a more proper internment at Mike’s Auto Salvage. They packed a lunch and headed for the back country road where they had been stranded. It would be a celebration of sorts for them surviving the month.
As they grew closer something strange appeared. It was that old familiar Chevy truck. As they neared they saw the table there, sitting where they had their picnic. Sitting alone was Mollie. Not understanding what was going on, they approached. On the table they saw a pitcher of sweet tea, 2 glasses, a Bible, and a few dozen photographs. Mollie turned as she heard them approach. With both a tear and a smile she said, “He died that night.” She turned back and fumbled through the pictures that captured their simple but most wonderful life. Sam had battled a heart condition for years, and that night, during his sleep he had died. Mollie sat there quiet, sometimes for minutes on end, perhaps reminiscing about the love of her life. Softly she would make mention of him as if describing him one trait at a time. “He was a generous man.” Again, another period of silence would follow as she fumbled through the photographs. Tessa sat beside her and held one hand of Mollie’s as her other held to the memories of the man she had loved all her life.
Mollie eventually spoke again of that night. She remembered Sam saying he wanted to have a picnic at this spot, just like them two young ones. Sam had kissed her that night and said “See ya in the morning Darlin.” Those following weeks had been hard for Mollie. Finally, a month later, she had mustered the strength to go have their picnic. Her lingering pain was obvious, but her love and passion for this man was ineffable. She had her picnic that day, along with Kenny and Tessa. It was the first of many picnics to come.
The next month, on a slightly cooler summer afternoon Tessa and Kenny went back. What seemed a bit odd was that all the chairs had been left around the table, but when they returned one had been set aside. Round 4 o’clock Mollie showed up and they visited. The next month and the next, they continued to meet. Each time they left all 4 chairs around the table, each time returning with one removed. For 2 years this continued until one day Kenny and Tessa arrived at their picnic site, and 2 chairs had been set aside. Mollie never made it that day. When they called her house she never answered. It was later discovered she had passed. Mollie was buried 3 days later next to her life long love Sam. That is where she had longed to be.
The next month Kenny and Tessa found it hard to go back to the picnic site, but they did. Once again they found the two chairs set aside. They emptied a box of pictures, some of them and their new home, and some of Sam and Mollie. Kenny and Tessa drank sweet tea and felt the gentle breeze as it tossed the falling leaves about. They thought of how lucky they were to have each other. They thought of the life and the love that Sam and Mollie had shared. And somehow they knew in their hearts, that they were never alone as they picnicked there.
Kenny continued to work at the paper, but found profound inspiration to write every time they would picnic at their special place. Eventually Kenny wrote a book and inside the cover dedicated it to Sam and Mollie. It’s last words… “Friends are friends forever.”
1000 Words on Character, and a Man Named "Unc"
The wisdom of age wrapped in home spun humor is often passed down from generation to generation by these historians and philosophers that gather at unpretentious places like family reunions. No RSVP is required, and seating is never limited to gather and hear those pearls of wisdom, or facets of life that are so easily misplaced amidst the clutter of all the busyness of life. These are the true guardians of the human spirit. They preserve those things that are the epitome the past and the hope of our future. They simply are the story tellers and preservers of life.
Ask anyone what is important and you’re likely to get as many differing answers as the amount of times you’ve asked the question. I would suspect that family and friends would be valued. Also I would imagine that values such as honesty and integrity as well as feelings such as love and joy would be high on many lists. Sometimes however, our values are skewed by the not so wonderful moments of life. We lose sight of what we truly value, and those things that once topped our list of most precious are now hidden behind a veil of the ever pressing here and now. We need the reminders of those moments that make us cry the happy tears, stories that cause us to dream, and the wonderful healing power of a good laugh. Those things we dare not let slip away in the cares of the day.
There are a variety of flavors to savor if you find yourself starving for a reminder of a better time and place. From the magical bedtime stories read and recited by parents coaxing their eager and starry eyed children to a dreamy sleep, or the elderly gent at the coffee shop whose demeanor is as sweet as his half eaten donut, and all those in between; the story tellers are a varied and delightfully amazing bunch. Like a bouquet of wild flowers, they color and scent our lives, each in its unique way. Often, the first stories we experience free us to dream.
It’s 8:30pm and a tired mom has picked up socks, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, played chauffer, chased the dog, washed clothes, made dinner. Mentally and physically spent, she hears the soft whispers of Calgon wooing her to be taken away. Yet another voice beckons her, “Mommy, can you come and tell me a story?” With one simple request the mom defers the role of protector and provider. Now she is the gateway to those splendiferous places where time stands still while kids can soar as high as their dreams. The mom musters the strength to tell another bedtime story, and as she does she pours more than love into her child. They soak in a hope that amazing wonders waits. Just around the corner, something magical can occur; tomorrow, anything is a possibility. Our greatest hope for the future isn’t what we teach the children, it is what we do not rob from them. By encouraging them to believe, to hope, and to dream, we free children to become what they are destined to be.
While mom’s fuel destiny’s fire, there are others who are best known for recounting the days past. When I saw the picture of “Unc” photographed by Penny, I thought of those wonderful story tellers that live on front porches and gather ‘round domino tables. Their home spun humor is as good as gold, their wit ten times sharper than their eyes and their philosophy wasn’t gleaned from books, but from day to day living. It has been said, when “E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” While wall street wonders can offer some savvy advice on futures and commodities, there no one like a Paw Paw or an Unc to remind us about the good old days, and what is truly worth working for in the future. There is a lot said around the fireplace, on the front porch, or sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck. I can remember as a child eating watermelon at granny’s where you just spit the seeds on the ground. We caught fire flies, and warmed ourselves by the fire, never slowing down enough to listen. But with every one of those memories, I still recall all the men sitting around just talking. Year by year, I played less, and listened more. Each passing year, their stories seemed more interesting or closer to home. Wisdom and understanding, a refocus on values, a humorous look at our lives; what ever they spoke of, I knew I was better for listening.
I recall when I first saw the picture of Unc. I am sure his weathered face has seen adversity, heart ache, pain, and worry. But when I look into his eyes, I still see kindness. I see a hope that shows through when one has been tried in fire and emerges on the other side. I see a thousand stories that can make you laugh or cry or just think. I can imagine Unc telling stories to the kids. They gather around listening and he relives history, instilling the past firmly into those who are our future. Like planting seeds, he sows each story into a heart that will someday recall what life used to be like… what it should be like. When I grow up, I want to be a story teller, just like Unc.
1000 words... By the Grace of God; photographed by surferguy
For anyone who has found themselves alone, another day hardly seems like a gift. The hours seem more like banners that wave proclaiming the pains we must endure. Fear, loneliness, and sorrow are like clouds that hide any remnant of hope in a new day. It is within these darkest of times that grace can find you where you are. Grace seeks out those in need of a miracle, and gently reminds us we are loved. Unconditional love is quite powerful, breaking the hold of the mightiest of hurts and the greatest of fears. It swallows up darkness with its light, and fills emptiness with its hope. It is a love not for what we are, but simply who we are. We are His child.
As a kid, there was a lot I didn’t like about myself. My hair was too curly, my knees too boney, and face had too many freckles. Low self esteem coupled with a desire to want everyone to like you sets one on a course of futility in trying to be what everyone wants you to be. Trying to merit attention; trying to deserve love. Sometimes in the effort to be everything to everyone, you lose sight of yourself. You become a chameleon of sorts, blending in to the picture of what you think you need to be. The remarkable truth is, you don’t need to be anything to be loved. You simply are. And you can’t do anything to deserve it. For own who wanted to deserve love, this is indeed a hard lesson to learn. But they can be learned, or more aptly put, understood. It can be revealed in a fraction of a second, where ever you are.
There was a man who had battled in life to have those things he wished for most. He had fought for them. And he struggled to keep them. Nothing in life was ever easy. He knew this, and was resolved to this truth. But as he franticly clenched to what was his, he began to lose it. His power, prestige, even his family slipped away no matter how tightly he held on to them. He had lost all that defined him and all that gave him a sense of self. Late one night he wandered down a beach, empty and devoid of hope. He fell to the sand sat there motionless. No moon or stars offered any light. His only companions were darkness and the sounds of each wave. Wave after wave came. There was only the darkness and the sound of each wave.
A first, the sound of each wave was an empty reminder of the darkness. It was a crippling kind of darkness that consumes one and offers no hope of light. After awhile, the waves were more like a song. A song that endures the night. And the song became a voice. One could say that the hours had made him delusional, or the sadness had driven him mad. But he heard the voice. The voice didn’t answer the multitude of questions that tormented him. It didn’t tell him why he was where he was. It didn’t even tell him what would happen next. It just told him 2 things. He was not alone, and he was loved.
When you are surrounded by darkness it is hard to believe you are not alone. It doesn’t make sense. Our minds battle against what has been spoken into our spirit. Faith believes that voice in the darkness. And hope keeps us going until we see the light. Our circumstances tell us what is humanly possible, and our past, what we deserve. But grace reveals to us the gifts that a perfect love lavishes upon those that don’t deserve them, but need them so.
The man that had once battled to make a name for him self was now the benefactor of a champion. Too tired to fight the desperation, sorrow, and loneliness, he simply sat listening to the voice that reminded him of who he was. He was a child of the maker of each wave. The man thought of the magnificence of the universe. How great are the span of the oceans and the depths of the seas. How small and insignificant was he. How imperfect and flawed he was. How undeserving, yet he found himself in the constant companionship of God. Some things in life are not learned from studies, but rather revealed in circumstances. Grace flourishes where we fail; it abides in our great inadequacies.
Grace may find us in the darkness, but never leaves us there. Soon, arising from the emptiness of night was the birth of a new day. Color began to paint the sky and wondrous hues of blues emerge from the ocean. Birds now took flight and life again is a testament of the Creator. The man lifted his hands from the sand and saw how quickly each grain fell. Just as his life had fallen apart, he could not hold onto it. This sad revelation vanished as he looked up. He saw the power of the wind, the constancy of each wave, the beauty of all creation wrapped in a gift he could never deserve. What do you say at a time like this? He broke his silence to say “Thank you for loving me.”
Ride the Train... Ride the Train
The weary heart,
And so is the lonely soul
Who travels through
The empty night.
There is no delight,
Only a song of solitude
Sung in disdain.
Within the distant,
Emerging from the nothingness
There is the faintest light,
A glimmer of hope in sight.
It is a song of love,
That hits me like a ...
Set Fire to Your Passion
While I love to take pictures, my true passion is writing. How well I write is debatable, but how much I love to write is quite clear. To me, a passion stirs the inner most parts of ones soul and creates a drive to be ones best, to give all, to fear not in trying. The older I get, I find I can do fewer sit ups, my runs are now jogs, and I really need my glasses when I drive. My writing, my passion, doesn’t improve my lap times or distant vision. It does however feed my zest for life. It can ground me to a firm unshakeable reality or set me free to fly. That’s what passion can do. And this Christmas I want to fuel both my passion and yours, in a way that will be my gift to the photographica family. A contest for “A Picture Worth A Thousand Words.”
If your passion is photography, then I have an extra challenge for you. Between now and December 26th I invite you to capture a picture that you think is worthy of a thousand words. It could be the magic of a breathtaking sunset, the power of the sea. Perhaps it’s the tenderness of a baby’s first Christmas, or the generosity of sharing. But more than the picture being perfect, ie correct white balance, exposure, etc, I am looking for a picture that invites one, even compels one to tell the story. The winners I select are the pictures that compel me to write. So everyone has a chance.
First Place will get a journal with a hand written 1000 word essay on what I see and feel when I look at the picture. Second Place will get a shorter version, and more than likely, electronically. Third Place will get a poem inspired by their picture. While this may or may not have value to everyone, I consider it my labor of love.
Those interested in participating need only let me know of a picture they want considered in the contest. And this contest isn’t sponsored by the site and should not interfere with the bi-weekly challenges. Just hopefully some icing on the cake. Good luck to those that wish to enter.
Looking Down.... Beneath My Feet
Beyond these steps
They lay and rest.
Their lives, their stories,
Once written within hearts,
Are now indexed upon stones.
Quiet are they
Beneath my feet.