In Search of Paradise

Like many folks, I have spent many hours this weekend watching the news cast as Hurricane Irma drew closer to the Florida Keys.  And on Sunday, I watched in horror as the media brought live coverage from various points in Florida during the storm.  Landfall, storm surges, and extreme wind brought fears of catastrophic damage, made more ominous by the storm’s western turn towards the gulf.  Original forecasts predicted the brunt of the storm on the east coast and while Miami prepared, places like Tampa and communities along the gulf coast had much less time to enact measures to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.

One of the places directly in the storm’s path was Marco Island, one of our favorite vacation spots.  On our first trip, I remember a visit to the Welcome Center.  A retiree from the North talked a lot about her life in this tropical paradise.

“What about hurricanes?” I asked.

“Not worried,” she said, “We’ve been lucky. They never seem to hit here.”

She is not alone in her optimism.  Many people decided to stay put in defiance to evacuation requirements and repeated warnings.  At one point in a televised broadcast, a convenience store owner along the southern shore stated, “At some point, you just have to think that it really will not happen.”

Are folks simply in denial or is something else at play here?

On Saturday, I spent the day with my daughter.  As we discussed the approaching storm, she told me about one person who had moved to one of the Florida Islands. 

“I like living too much,” I said.

“That’s exactly what she said,” my daughter replied.

Point made. 

Later in one of the televised broadcasts, a reporter spoke with a woman who had decided to remain on Key West. “I have lived here all of my life,” she said. “This is home.”  She reminded me of the young business man who had just opened a bistro close to the shore on Marco Island.  The excitement in his voice was obvious as he described his hopes for this new venture.  There was no separating his dream from his life. They were, in fact, one and the same.

Like a captain who would rather sink with his ship, perhaps for some, the idea of paradise lost is inconceivable.  The thought of leaving is no more possible than leaving your own skin and surviving.

Tonight, my thoughts are with the realtor who found a retirement home on Marco Island and the millions like her living in Florida.  Tonight, my heart is with the young man and his bistro; and the woman who has lived her entire life on Key West. 

We could all use a little more paradise.

Ordinary Moments, Extraordinary Life

On a recent Thursday morning, I made a common detour onto the access road headed for McDonald’s to collect my dose of unsweetened iced tea.  On many mornings, I pass several semi-trucks parked along the fence lining this road.  I typically do not see the drivers, but on this day, I observed a trucker attempting to parallel park a double semi-trailer between two other trucks.  I admired his skill as he competently slid this big rig into a tight parking spot.  Contemplating my own experience with parallel parking a small SUV, I imagined how difficult it would be to maneuver a vehicle of this size.

My father was a career truck driver until he retired after forty years from Terminal Transport. He took great pride in his ability to drive the big rigs and considered himself a professional driver.  This identity took on new dimensions when my teenage self reached driving age.  He was my teacher and he was tough.

Driving, like many life markers, is ordinary because it is a common rite of passage for most teenagers.  Yet driving also is extraordinary because it marks the beginning of new freedoms and responsibilities.

This relationship between the ordinary and extraordinary seems woven into life’s fabric. While we may long for extraordinary moments, adventures planned, and otherwise, simple hindsight often attests to the impact of those ordinary times in life revealed in extraordinary results.  Small and seemingly insignificant choices and events often have big consequences.

Perhaps that is what my father was really trying to teach me all along.  But, my teenage self did not appreciate my father’s tutorage.  “Dad it’s a Mercury Cougar,” not a semi-truck,” I whined, in response to his seemingly incessant corrections.

“When you have been driving forty years, you can have an opinion,” my father retorted.  “Until that time, you will do it my way.”

Several months later, the brakes failed in that same car as I was driving my mom to the grocery store at Central Point Shopping Center.  I was in the center lane and traffic was heavy.  As a new driver, my instinct was to panic, but I could hear my dad’s voice in my head telling me to stay calm regardless of the circumstance.  Methodically, I reached for the turn signal and thanks to the kindness of a stranger in the next lane, I was able to change lanes and swerve into a nearby parking lot burying the front end of the car into a set of hedges.  No one was hurt and the car escaped serious damage.

Meditation

It is often said that hindsight is 20/20.  Extraordinary moments make for lasting memories.  Yet, in looking back at life, like a grand tapestry, clearly it was the countless decisions made within the context of the ordinary day that has the most profound impact on life. Ordinary moments provide the foundation for the extraordinary life.

So today, I raise my glass of iced tea to those ordinary moments and ordinary days. While we can certainly celebrate the extraordinary events of life, so should we also cherish those ordinary days that fill life with substance. 

As for my dad’s advice – of course, my dad’s words were a bit more colorful at that time and it has been more than forty years.  So now I get to have an opinion.  Guess what, dad?  You were right.

Going In Circles

Have you ever been lost or ended up somewhere completely different from where you thought you would be?  If so and if you are like me, you may recall feeling uneasy, even fearful, when you realized that you were not where you should have been. Finding yourself in unfamiliar territory, even temporarily, can be a bit disconcerting.
 
Years ago, heading home after a date with John, I made a wrong turn on Route 37.  I remember the anxiety I felt when I failed to recognize any of the scenery.  But, I ignored my gut and kept traveling until I reached the first sign for Marietta. For those of you unfamiliar with Ohio, Marietta is very close to the state border.  Only then did I realized how far I had traveled in the wrong direction.
 
It was a long way back home as I had quite literally more than doubled the time I would spend on the road. Beyond shook up, I also felt a bit disoriented, caught in a situation that seemed surreal.  Seeing that sign for Marietta reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode I watched years ago, the one where a couple wakes up after a night of drinking in a strange house and an unfamiliar town. As they explore their new surroundings, they find that everything is fake. The only phone has no connective hardware, kitchen cabinets are simply boards tacked to the wall and the nonworking refrigerator contains fake food. Outside no birds are heard. As they leave the house, the women reaches for a squirrel perched in a tree only to find that the squirrel is stuffed and the tree is a standing prop. Grass is made of paper mache. No one is in any of the homes or the church. Understandably, they are relieved when they finally find a parked car with what looks to be a human being behind the wheel. But on closer inspection, they find that the car has no engine and the human being is a mannequin. Towards the end of the episode, they hop a ride on the only moving object in the town, a train, only to be returned to the exact same spot they had left behind.
 
No matter what action they took or which direction they chose, the destination would always the same. They were trapped in this small town with no hope of escape.  
 
I literally felt shaky until I was back in Lancaster and headed home on a familiar road.
 
John and I spend many summer mornings sitting at the table in our backyard enjoying the various critters and creatures that inhabit our garden. One Friday I spotted the ant in the picture on the rim of the table.  He scurried along the rim for hours, passing me several times, but never changing directions. I finally brushed him into my hand and placed him on the ground.  Yet, on Saturday, again, there was a single ant circling the rim of the table. 
 
Meditation
Certainly, my situation on Route 37 was in many ways, different, from the Twilight Zone episode and my visiting ant. Once I recognized my error, I knew the way home. I just needed to turn around.
 
So why the fear?
 
Maybe familiarity and direction were never the issues. Perhaps, my emotions were more connected with the need to be in control of my circumstances. Control is comforting and it is hard to navigate situations when information is lacking or inaccurate. I like being the master of my own universe. But the truth is, I am not, and unfamiliar instances are uncomfortable reminders that all may not be as it seems.
 
Maybe, I will visit the Twilight Zone and emancipate that couple trapped in the small town, unless the giggling child finds me first. Oh…I didn’t tell you about that part, did I? Well sorry, no spoiler’s here. You will have to visit that unknown place all by yourself.

Making Memories

Hello Life by Larabee friends,

Our first event has come to close. I have to say it was an exciting time. We deeply appreciate the friends and family who took the time to visit us at the 2017 Lancaster ArtWalk, as well as those who could not make the event but held us close in their heart.  Despite the gloomy weather, we had an enjoyable and productive evening. 

Towards the end of the evening a young man, perhaps twelve, approached our display.  He threw up his hands and yelled, “Alright!”  And in true “Deb” style I also threw up my hands and yelled, “Alright!”

His mom laughed and told me he had been saving his money but had been unable to find anything at the ArtWalk to purchase.  Most of the art was too expensive for the smaller bills in this young man’s pocket.  Apparently, he also loves animals.

I watched his excitement as he browsed through the bin and chattered about the animals depicted in the various images. More than simply a purchase, this young man was looking to take home a memory, a piece of art from an event in his life.     

He left with a giraffe plus a couple of other animal image friends. 

I left with a huge smile. The young man would not be the only one leaving with precious memories. To me, this is what photography is about – capturing and making memories for everyone involved.

Until next time,

Deb

A Peachy Story

“Don’t ever take a bath during an electrical storm.”

This advice from mom came just before she left for her Friday night bingo game. I had heard her say this before, but never took the advice too seriously. After all, teenage girls are all about looks and I had a date.

The electrical storm was reaching a peak by the time I removed a fresh pair of jeans from the clothesline in the basement and was ready to head for the bathroom. The bathtub, one with a curved rim and ornate feet, was at the back of the house on the second floor beneath a window overlooking the backyard. Roaring thunder shook the house as I moved up the stairs. From the bathroom window, bolts of brilliant lightning illuminated the backyard peach tree as it weaved mercilessly, tossed about by strong wind and heavy rain. I paused long enough to consider this favorite tree. This was not a small tree, but one that had survived many decades.

I sank deep into the warm bath water and closed my eyes, hoping the rain would pass before my date was due to arrive. In the interim, I still had power and was safe inside. The water felt good on my skin and if I concentrated, I might be able to hear the softer rain beyond the storm.  

I wasn’t prepared for the shrill cry of shattering glass as the window gave way to the weight of the falling peach tree as it plummeted into the bathroom, finally collapsing against the rim of the tub. Suddenly pinned by the top of a large tree and surrounded by glass, I sat motionless in the water, afraid to move.

I surveyed the top of this beloved tree, which now filled the tub and much of the small bathroom. Wind and rain spilled through the window. I needed to get out. But, I was alone in the house and not near a phone. I was not even certain that I had escaped or could escape injury.

I tried, but couldn’t budge the tree and was left with the option of trying to slide myself out from under it. I carefully picked reachable glass from the water and began slowly sliding my legs while pushing up with my arms. Eventually, I was able to position my legs in a way that enabled me to push my way up and out of the tub.

I was lucky, the peach tree was not.

Meditation

The vacant spot at the back of the yard reminded me of the fate of my favorite peach tree for many years. I grieved this tree that had provided fruit and shade every summer. And although the pain I felt from the loss of this tree in such a traumatic way grew dimmer as the years passed, the tree was never forgotten.

Recently, Bette Midler did an interview with Jane Pauley on the show Sunday Morning. In talking about her career past, she said, “Never look back, always look forward. If you’re looking back, you can’t look forward – you can’t go forward.”

Women of a certain age (an apropos term from the Divine Miss M herself) can certainly appreciate the reflections on life from this amazing lady with the pink highlights in her hair. Some seasons in life end, so that others can begin.

The year that I married John, we planted a peach tree in our backyard, in honor of our new life together. This year, she is bearing multiple peaches for the first time. I like to think that in some strange way, my favorite tree has finally received justice and life has come full circle, once again.

As for my date that fateful night – he stood me up.

As for my mom’s advice – certainly wise, but sadly, I am still tempted to bathe (shower, not a bath) during electrical storms. My “dates” are much better these days.

It is a Reflective Thought

I look at a picture of mirror reflections from time to time. I like some of the scenes taken near the edge of a body of water. It really makes the mind play tricks. The reflected picture over water showing you everything that is on the banks. The real reflected by the unreal, the unreal reflected by the real. So in your mind’s eye, you see two very perfect images. Are the images you see both real?

Pyrite is fool’s gold. Many people who are familiar with it and have held it in their hand would find it looking very much like gold. It sparkles and is heavy in mass much like gold. It can be mistaken for gold as it appears within gold seams. Many amateur prospectors were fooled by it during the gold rushes, I am sure after all the mining of the mineral by mistake must have cost them fortunes.

I can say that sometimes reality hurts, sometimes it is not as it seems. It, in fact, can fool you. What you think is the reality comes to be only a reflection of what you perceive as real. This mistake happens based on what you think, versus the real facts.

If we look back at the picture of the bank of a lake, the water reflects back to you an image of what is on the bank, real enough you say to be identified by the mind’s eye as reality. It is exactly the same. But, no it is not. If you were to touch the water the reflection would distort and no longer give a clear perfect reflection. The real is what you can touch and will not change and distort. Those trees on the bank are very real in their physical appearance. You can apply all your senses for proof. You can walk upon the bank and touch the bark of the trees; you can hear the wind blow through its branches. This cannot be done with using all your senses upon the reflection. Sight without touch can really fool you. One should not just rely on one sense for proof.

I probably could say art is a reflective process. An artist will try to capture the reality that the mind’s eye sees and puts it into a photograph or paints it upon a canvas, or makes it a movie on film. Creativity can take the unreal and make it seem real. But, remember things created from the reflective process can be made real only if constructed from real materials.

It was always a reflection of the dream that humans could one day fly. That dream was written about, found in drawings throughout history, then the unreal became real. Plans were drawn, the product built and tested, and humans flew, and continue to improve upon flight with the creative design process.

I continue to use my senses in the real world. I like the idea of capturing what I dream and writing it on paper as coming from some unreality in my mind. If it were not for my dream or thought, nothing would become of it. When I put the dream or thought to test of reality by physical construction, so then I can see it, but also touch, hear, and taste it, then it becomes something very real.

I like that idea that you can think of something, then design it on paper, then create that something you thought of, finally constructing it. Then you bring the idea to reality.

In essence, creating something out of nothing.

Living in Color

It was hard to miss the brilliant orange butterfly against the deep green leaf.  The bright color draws the eye and is one of those colors that screams for attention, especially when placed against a dark background. In the case of this exquisite butterfly, orange is definitely not the new black.

Color excites the senses. There is no room for dull or subtle when the world is lit with color.

I found this specimen on one of my weekend excursions with John. I savor our weekend trips, those times when I can escape the doldrums of the typical week. Most trips involve the exploration of new surroundings. Although, most days we have a destination in mind, sometimes we end up somewhere completely unplanned. Sometimes, we just drive. We call our journeys adventures because that is exactly what we are seeking. Most of the time, an adventure is also what we find.

I’ll tell you a secret, but you must promise to shout it from the rooftops.

I want to wake up in the morning anticipating a new adventure. Boring will not suffice.

People who know me well will tell you that I am quirky. Not quirky in the negative sense, but quirky in the way I view and interact with life.

Inanimate objects in my world have names. My camera is Lydia. My car is Lucy. My bicycle is Wilma.

I may speak in voices not my own. Some days you may hear a munchkin, while others are full of the wicked witch. I may get you my pretty, even if you are a member of the lollipop guild.

I talk to the plants in my garden and yes, sometimes they answer me in the whisper of leaves and soft petals.

I have complete conversations with the story characters in my head. It’s a great way to get to know them better before they see life on my page. For this reason, I must write; otherwise, my brain might explode.

Puppets have been known to inhabit my purse.  They make unexpected appearances when grandchildren are nearby.

I call it living in color.

Last summer, I watched my youngest grandson experience the thrill of one of my favorite childhood past times – spending time on a swing.  I watched his mom lovingly place him in the swing. His excitement was evident in the purposeful movements of both legs. He squealed with delight as a simple push put the swing in motion. And as the swing soared higher, I watched him close his eyes. Finally, when he had reached maximum height, the arms went up in the air and the delighted squeals from this small body sounded much like a song. My grandson had become one with the experience of the swing.

Watching him flooded my mind with my own sweet memories of a backyard swing. I was on that swing almost every evening. It was a personal challenge to see how high I could glide into the horizon. Many evenings, I felt I could touch the sky. Then, I would sing, certain as my own being that someone out there was listening. I was one with the experience of the swing.

Meditation

Here’s the deal. Life should be colorful. Days matter and experiences should be memorable.  It isn’t enough to simply click off the days of our lives in an endless parade of bland moments.  Surely, there must be inspiration, meaning, and yes, even purpose.  Anything less is not living.  Anything less is merely existing.

What gets you up in the morning besides Folgers in your cup?  A swat from a favorite cat or the cold nose of a puppy?  Soft footfalls from the small feet of grandchildren? A mission or hobby that fuels your passion and imagination? A worthy cause?

Or just an alarm clock?

But, my goodness, what would the neighbors think? Convention tells us that there is a list somewhere, one with rules and boxes to check off, just to make sure we are doing life properly. Life should be tidy, contained, and controlled. Let’s make sure that we all color within the lines. No scribbling or resisting allowed.

But life isn’t tidy or contained. And life certainly will not be controlled. There are only two choices. We can either fight for convention or live fluidly as part of a greater experience.

We can choose to live in color. If life exists in color, why live it in black and white?

Telling the Story

On a summer visit to The Wilds, our tram pulled up beside a group of camels. Typically, I find the camels rolling in the mud. But today was different. Today, they were settled at the top of a grassy hill, mouths open as a soft breeze wrestled against tangled fur. Over the hill, but not visible in the picture, a group of zebras romped in the meadow below. One of them, a mischievous zebra named Elvis, is often the topic of conversation at this unique wildlife preserve.

I wondered if the camels noticed the zebras in the distance, if they, in fact, attend to or study their surroundings with any demonstrable detail. Beyond the instinct to survive, what concerns would a camel have?  If they could speak in words understandable to the human ear, what story would they tell?

“Mildred,” one might say, “I can’t see past your hump. What is that goofy zebra up to down there?”

“Same stuff as usual,” Mildred might reply, “Still after the gal with the wild mane.”

Think so? Probably not. The group of camels seemed as oblivious to the zebras as they were to our parked tram. Perhaps, camels simply want to enjoy their day.

Humans also love to enjoy their day. I know I was certainly enjoying my time at The Wilds; nothing is wilder than my ever-present imagination. And I know I am not the only one who enjoys a good story.

It’s my dad’s fault. Dad was a master of seeing life through the context of a story. Walking into our home on any given day was much like walking into a museum where each item had a story to tell. Walls were lined with collectibles and decorated with hunting trophies. A set of bull horns rested above the dining room mirror, justification for a fictitious story involving a wrestling match between the bull and my grandfather.

But my favorite story was about the Powder River Owl.  

In the middle of the living room above the couch, my father had hung the back end of an antelope he had killed on a hunt in Wyoming. Before it was mounted and placed on the wall, he had two eyes strategically placed and the tail elongated to resemble a beak. Neighbors would visit the house to hear the story of my dad’s close encounter with this bird. As the story went, he was fishing at a friend’s private lake, when this bird came soaring from the sky heading straight for his small fishing boat. In self-defense, my dad picked up his rifle and shot the bird; and it was only after the bird landed in the water did he realize that he might have killed an endangered species. 

“What happened next, Hubert?” his wide-eyed visitor would ask.

“I hid it in the barn and smuggled it out after dark before the cops could find out,” dad would whisper.

From the chair on the opposite end of the room, I could only shake my head in dismay. No one ever questioned why a rifle was necessary on a fishing expedition, much less why an owl would have fur rather than feathers.

Meditation

All of us have stories, whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. They live in each of us as memories. Stories can be dismissed as passing thought or be a catalyst for deep introspection. When thoughtfully considered, our stories can help us navigate life’s pitfalls and provide a means of celebrating our shared humanity. When reaching for a dream seems difficult, our past can light the way to the future. If we are smart, our stories inform and guide our journey through life. 

Feeling Small

Take a deep breath. Can you smell it? It is the ocean, invading your nostrils with warm salty air. 

Open your eyes. Can you see it? The sea lies before you in endless ripples.

I am standing on the shore. In my head, I hear Lee Ann Womack sing, “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.” I get it.  How could you not feel small next to such a vast body of water, especially if you are small, to begin with?  At 5’0” I am beyond small; next to the ocean, I am a speck.

Smaller still, this butterfly can relate to my dilemma.  So small, he clings to a leaf as he surveys the local jungle. Perhaps, feeling small is a matter of perspective. 

Feeling small can have negative connotations. Small is often equated to insignificance. Isn’t bigger supposed to be better? If you are a larger predator, small can make you an easy lunch. And speaking of lunch, isn’t lunch supposed to be bigger?  We can supersize our order, go to the all-you-can-eat buffet, or order just about any item on a standard menu and receive a portion bigger than most folks should consume in one sitting. We like to get our money’s worth, don’t we?  What would be our reaction if suddenly the meal we ordered at our favorite restaurant arrived at half size for the same amount of money?  Perhaps, we should question our preference for bigger, especially if our waistline has any say in the matter.

Meditation

It is easy to miss the point. Smallness also can be a source of comfort and that is truly what I feel when I stand beside the ocean. It is the sense that life is bigger than I am. I need not know everything or solve every problem. My speck could and will be gone at some point and the world will go on without me.

What an interesting twist, that such a thought should be ultimately comforting. There is peace in letting go of what I never had control of, to begin with. There is tranquility in embracing the mystery of life without the need to figure it all out.

To this, I should be content with whatever part I am privileged to play in making the world a better place when such is possible for a speck. Of this much I am certain; the world is far stranger and infinitely more beautiful than I will ever know. And that is enough for me.

The Creation of Thought

Take it, grasp it,

Own it.

You have nothing to lose.

You have only to win.

 

Look carefully in your mind,

Look for intuition, not logic.

You can search within,

Forget the material thought.

 

Be original, take a chance,

Find it among the clutter.

It is not reality, you think it,

Things made from nothing.

 

Feel it grow within you,

It has been growing in your subconscious.

Recording all that you have said or done since birth,

Replaying as you dream to make sense of it.

 

No form of reality exists, it is all an illusion.

Take it, grasp it,

Own it.

You have nothing to lose,

You can only win.