Simple Pleasures

Thanksgiving has become one of my favorite Holidays of the year.  I will be boldly honest when I admit that my sending it to the top of the list is in direct relation to the food, but I also just enjoy the simplicity of it.  It typically consists of about three days worth of relaxing, spending time with family, and very casual living as you enjoy left-overs from the meals and time off of work.  That is why each year I get irritated when Christmas starts to over-run it with music, sales, displays, and so forth.  This year was no exception, other than when it came to the complications that a large (at least for our high-desert climate) snow storm brought.

We began receiving rain earlier in the week, but on Thursday night it finally got cold enough to turn into snow.  As I mentioned before, snow that comes and stays is pretty rare so when it comes to snow my stance is typically ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’.  And this time I believed it.

About 3:30am on Friday morning the electricity in our home shut off triggering complete silence in our home other than the beeping of a video style baby monitor we keep in our room to view the children in the room next to us informing us that it had lost it’s signal to the camera.  (This particular monitor can run wireless on a battery making it convenient to take with you wherever you might need to).

My wife being trained after over 7 years of motherhood to respond in an instance to nighttime interruptions was swiftly out of bed and to it, silencing it just in the nick of time…..or so we thought.

Less than 30 seconds later we heard the thumping and opening of our children’s door.  My wife was swiftly out of bed again meeting J7 in the hallway to which she stated that it was pitch black and she was scared.  I then heard my son, T3, holler from the room “I’m scared!”

Expecting it to be a quick outage the children joined us in bed where we tried to ask the impossible from them knowing the whole time that it was merely wishful thinking to request that they HOLD STILL and try to go to sleep.

After much fidgeting, shooshing, and fighting the constant wiggle my stomach began to rumble as it remembered how tasty the meals were the day before and how much it wanted that long awaited left over turkey sandwich with the homemade rolls that were currently sitting next to the oven.

This, of course, made the children giggle and get even more wound up.  So, realizing this was going to be a longer outage than expected I threw the covers off of me, exclaimed “that’s it!”, and rolled out of bed and headed for the living room and kitchen.

The power had been out now for a good 40 minutes.  We had gathered out into the living room by the light of our phones and I began stoking the fire from coals to a flame while my wife found some candles and began lighting them on the table.

This acceptance to being awake triggered something inside of J7 and, I kid you not, she began a non-stop stream of talking that lasted well into the next day!  T3 also accepted our awaken state and, like his dad, requested some food.  So the leftovers were pulled from the fridge and some very delicious turkey sandwiches were made up and the four of us enjoyed an early morning snack around a candle lit table.

The power did come on at about 5am again and everyone tried to settle down to get some rest, but it kicked back off again at 5:30ish and then remained off until nearly 8pm Friday night.

We did make the most of it as we found a winter wonderland when the sun rose which was exciting for everyone involved.  Snow apparel was dug out, and once everyone was bundled thoroughly by my wife we went out to play in the deep snow.

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Again I was bombarded with hiccups as one thing after another was complicated by the power being out as I attempted to keep the outlaying rooms of the house warm, blow up inter tubes for snow play, make sure refrigerated items didn’t spoil, and so forth in an effort to keep my family comfortable and manage our electricity-less home as I felt obligated to as the man of the house.  So, it was quite a relief when the power kicked back on Friday evening, and stayed on, allowing life to get back to normal.

Saturday we planned another Thanksgiving tradition, which was to go cut a live tree off of a nearby mountain.  The truck was loaded, lunch and snacks were prepared by my wife, and off we set to hunt out our perfect tree.

After making a quick stop at the Forest Service office to purchase our tag we endured a good forty minutes fart noises resonating from the back seat where our children giggled and laughed as they tried to one-up each other’s manufactured fart sounds.  I will admit that my wife and I did egg them on a bit as we couldn’t help but voice how impressed we were with a couple of exemplary sounds that were created by my daughter.

Soon enough we arrived at the junction that would take us just a bit further to where the perfect trees grew.  Just beyond that junction we were greeted by ROAD CLOSED!  The plows had continued beyond that point, but the gates were shut and locked up tight.

A bit frustrated we scrambled all over the mountain looking for any open road that would get us  to the trees we were searching for.  But after a thorough search, no open roads were found and we made it full-circle back to the closed gates.  After some debating, we decided to get out and walk up the closed road a bit to see what we could find on foot.

About 1/2 mile up the inclined road I found myself constantly having to stop and wait for my children that were doddling along at the pace of vintage VW van trying to keep up with modern traffic.

Not knowing how far we’d have to go, or if the kids would even make it, we decided that I had better just head out and see what I could find.  So off I went at my ‘determined to get the job done’ pace to find a tree.

Not more than a mile down the road I finally found a suitable specimen, trudged through the waist-high snow, cut it down, and started back down the road only to be surprised by my family not more than 100 yards off.  I genuinely didn’t think they would make it that far, and especially didn’t think they’d make it that quickly.  But there they were, trooping along and still rearing to go.

As we chatted for a minute and I expressed my apologies for not waiting explaining I didn’t think they’d make it, the kids found fun climbing up, then sliding down the bank that had been pushed up by the plow that had been down that road.

The bank was no more than about three feet, but it was still so much fun to those two young ones.  That made me reflect on the trek up as they were doddling along, they were also picking up large chunks of pre-made snow balls that the plow had created and having an on-the-move snowball fight with mom.  (Mom had started this play).

The day before, with the power out, they were still very merry the entire day as mom continued to supply activities, treats, and so forth to keep them entertained and happy.  They were all simple things, but effective.  All the while I was in work mode ‘doing what had to be done’ to keep the house going, just as I had been today.

My focus was getting a tree and the closed road had just made me even more focused on the task, turning my attitude from a happy outing as a family to a task that was being tried on every hand with the snow and closed roads.  There was no fun in this job, just the job that HAD to be done so that I could move on to the next job at hand.

As I watched my kids play in this snow pile that had been pushed up on the edge of the paved road, simply reveling in the opportunity to play in this snow I felt myself getting a little jealous.  Here I was, a trained hound with a job to do, and these were care-free puppies chasing butterflies.

But honestly, what was at stake each of these days?  When the power was out we had a wood burning stove to keep us warm inside, and it was plenty cold outside to keep our refrigerated items cool and unspoiled.  As simple as that.

If we couldn’t get a tree today we’d simply find a fake version that would be easier to maintain and cleaner to set up and take down.  So why stress over cutting a live tree today?  Enjoy being up on the mountain, in the snow, with your beautiful family!

After kicking myself for not enjoying the simple pleasures of the weekend I grabbed the tree, with a smile on my face, and we all headed down off the mountain.  T3 ‘helped’ me drag the tree for a bit just as happy as he could be.  I enjoyed the sun shinning through the frosted trees as I watched my kids run and slip-and-slide on the icy patches that still remained on the paved road.

Back at the truck my wife had a thermos of hot chocolate waiting for us along with a bag full of snacks.  And that’s when I realized she was the real hero of the weekend.  At each roadblock we met, some more literal than others, she was prepared with the solution, as simple as it may have been, but in each case it was effective.

I felt the need to complicate each task by putting a weight that was unnecessary on the scenarios while she sought out a way to expose the simple pleasures that would make the most of it!

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for my wife and the simple pleasures she introduced to make it a wonderful weekend.

How do I place a Value on my Efforts?

I can quite honestly say that being a small-town business owner is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done……and it is an every-day process.

I’ve been acting in this capacity for 13 years now.  That is pretty much 1/3 of my life.  (Give me a minute….I’ve gotta sit back and take that in….)

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A third of my life I have been hard at work, 5-6 days a week, for 8-15, even 18-20 hours on occasion, each day.  Then there is the time that I’m not at work.  My body may sleep, drive, enjoy outdoor activities, watching movies, and other non-work activities, but my mind doesn’t transition away easily.  Jobs, due dates, machinery needing to be replaced, employee struggles, maintenance, pricing, complaints, capital inflow and outflow…..and the list goes on and on.  My business continues to be an active performer on my mind stage each and every day of the year.  Yes, different acts of the play call for different characters, but work is always center stage.

So when I am asked to provide pricing on the different jobs I am called to fulfill for my customers, I struggle to know what value I can put on that job.  It is easy to find the cost of supplies, machines, utilities, even employee wages.  But when it comes to my time, my efforts, …..me….. how to I place a value on me?

Recently I was asked to revise some pricing on a few products that were going through some changes for our largest client.  That is what made this question surface.  As I worked on the figures, I couldn’t help reflect on the impact their projects have on me, personally.

Currently they are using a system that tries to predict what their usage will be.  They then place large orders, multiple pages worth, at a single time.  Usually I am allowed a couple of weeks to fulfill the order and deliver it over to their facility so their team can get to work assembling their product.

Sometimes, I am asked to rush portions of that job because of a more urgent need.  I have been happy to do that for them because I see the value in keeping that partnership.  I mean, their jobs account for over 1/3 of our gross sales.  It makes sense to bend over backwards and meet the demands and needs they have.

Because of the attention needed on these jobs to ensure the final quality of the job, I often save the job until I can give it my full and uninterrupted attention.  I’d love to say that since my press sits in the far corner of the shop I can simply attend to the other jobs needing my attention and start on these VIP jobs as soon as the others are completed, but that would only work if I were an employee who’s duties were limited to specific jobs.

Because of my capacity as the owner/boss/manager/maintenance/HR rep….you get the piont, there are days where the interruptions are constant.  I find myself setting down the business phone, only to immediately attend to my cellphone ringing in my pocket, while holding up my finger and mouthing “just a minute” to an employee standing in the doorway of my office, while I lean over my desk responding to an email.

Machines need to be un-jammed, networks need to be restored, paper needs to be ordered, time cards need to be fixed, customers need to be helped, and before I know it the front door gets locked, the open sign is shut off, and finally the interruptions of the day begin to settle and my focus comes to rest on weighing what absolutely has to be done before tomorrow and what can wait another day.

Most often, the VIP jobs that have to be done today belong to this particular client.  They have to be printed tonight in order for the ink to dry sufficiently to allow them to be cut and packaged for delivery the next day before 2:30pm.

So, like clockwork, I call my favorite burger joint and place a to-go order for my favorite burger with a value meal #2 that includes waffle fries, and an XL Dr. Pepper, and get to work with a goal to hopefully make it home before the kids to go to bed.  Sometimes I make it, most times I don’t.

But day after day, every phone call is pleasant, every customer gets met with a smile, and all of my emails are worded meticulously portraying a man that has it together and is at the top of his game when deep down I am sleep deprived, my back is aching, my arteries are getting cluttered with cholesterol, and I’m starving because lunch time was three hours ago!

And so the question weighs on my mind; when I am making so many sacrifices to fulfill these jobs, what value does that equate to and when does it get to a point to where I simply can’t put a number on that?

I’ve often seen the cards laid before me and told to myself “brother, it’s time to fold.”  But I also know that bluffing for just a little bit longer could buy me the capital, clientele, and time I need in order to crest over that rise and descend into the Garden of Eden that lay below.  To a time when things handle themselves, jobs flow in and out seamlessly, the money that comes in is far greater than the money going out, and I come and go as I please wearing a smile because I know I’m finally earning what I’m worth.

88 miles per hour is slow

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I don’t know about you, but I am always taken off guard about how different things look after the fact.

I had a chance to go out for a Saturday afternoon adventure.  The plan was that my family would come with me, but after a long day of projects the kids, and as a result momma too, were just plum wore out.  And anyone with kids knows that when they are wore out every little disappointment turns into the end of the world.

I, having a core-driven need to get out and be in the hills, needed to go.  So I set off on the 15 minute drive to the trail-head that led to the box canyon I was seeking to find that day.

With Sami, my adventure buddy, unloaded from the trailer and my back pack nestled in the seat next to me, I shifted Sami into first gear and headed down the dirt road that would lead to my destination.

After a few wrong turns and mental notes made on those various roads I finally found myself descending into the canyon.  As I drove up the bottom of the wash, it began to narrow with slick rock on either side encroaching in on my highway.

Finally, it was time to stop and continue on foot.  Immediately I found this mini slot canyon before me where the walls neatly folded inside of each other making a nearly perfect pattern.

I always deceive myself when I encounter something like this because I immediately get an image in my head of how I want to capture that scene.  It is where my amateurism shines through as typically I can’t quite duplicate what my eyes and my mind sees when I try to capture it on my camera.

After taking a couple of shots I quickly gave up and headed on the long hike that lay before me expecting to find some better stuff up ahead.

Hiking along I did find a shot here and there that I spent considerable more time and effort on.  But, really, nothing too exciting and ultimately the whole trip was a bit of a let down as the canyon just didn’t live up to the hype.  So after reaching the end of the canyon I made a hasty retreat back to Sami and on to home feeling somewhat let down about the whole trip.

A few days later I sat down to review a few of the pictures and see what turned out and what wasn’t that great.  As I swiped through and downloaded some of my favorites the first shots I took of the mini slot canyon came up in line.  I ended up taking two photos before giving up and moving on.  I downloaded both, as they were the only two of that particular feature, not paying much attention to them and hurrying to get to the others that I thought would glean more satisfaction.

Once downloaded I was able to view them in a higher quality state which always makes or breaks them.  Again swiping through I found some that I really liked and made the trip worth while.  Finally I arrived at this mini slot canyon again.

I paused on it as I took in the scene and re-lived that excitement again of when I had first seen it.  What I found was the first photo I took wasn’t focused well.  I really needed a tripod for what I was trying to achieve.  Then then the second photo had a better focus but was just  bit too under exposed making it a bit dark.

In the moment, I saw the light spot where the sun was shining down giving too much contrast, and how dark the image was coming out and gave up after two shots.  But viewing the photos now I could see the easy fixes that would have made the shot, quite easily, one of my favorites.

Suddenly I had the solutions I needed to make that experience a success and desired to somehow go back in time and do it over.  To spend the time that shot deserved rather than shoving it aside quickly when the reward didn’t come quickly or easily.

Fishing has become that thing that I wish I had more time to do and wish I was better at doing.

Living in a desert climate the opportunities to fish just aren’t very close by.  It seems like you have to travel to every spot, especially if you want some seclusion and quiet……and I want the seclusion and quiet.  So I just don’t get to go as often as I would like to.

Recently we had a chance to take a quick run to a childhood fishing spot as a family.  When the kids come fishing, I always try to prepare myself for the fact that I won’t be able to focus on MY fishing experience as much as I would like to.  This trip was no different.

When we arrived the poles needed to be rigged, bait needed to be applied, and lines needed to be untangled and cast out.  So one by one I went through the poles and readied them.

The hits were slow but on a lure I kept getting one here and there.  Realizing that the species of fish we were aiming for wasn’t hitting I decided to change tactics.  So I went for a bait that was in ready supply.

It was easy to find because the buzzing was all around us.  So quickly I found quite possibly the ugliest bug ever created, a cicada, and pinched its wings and headed back for the dock.  Carefully I threaded it onto the hook of my daughters Tinkerbell pole and cast it out.

Nearly as instantly as it hit the water a fish surfaced and gobbled the cicada and I was reeling in a small small mouth bass.  Excitedly, everyone wanted the same bait and so dad was on bait duty as cicada after cicada was caught, hooked, and cast in the hopes of catching the next fish.

What built the frustration of the moment was that I had made catching a fish as simple as I possibly could have.  I had tied a bubble on the line as a visual indicator of when a fish bit the hook.  All that had to be done was to cast the hook, baited by dad, out into the water and watch the bubble until it dunked under the surface of the water.  Once the bubble dunked one just needed to set the hook and reel in the caught fish.

But what was happening instead was the hook, baited by dad, was cast out and the bubble was watched for 1.3 seconds before their attention was directed at the other bank where their cousins were fishing, or at a dragonfly that was fluttering lazily along the bank, or back at dad who was catching another cicada to bait another pole……

Before long mom or dad would be yelling “your bubble, your bubble” and a dazed J6 would searched frantically the surface of the water, trying to locate the bubble, which of course was hidden beneath the surface, so then our prompts would turn to “reel, reel!” and at about that time the bubble would resurface and the hook would be reeled in, bait-less and fish-less because the fish had plenty of time to realize that there was something “fishy” (pardon my pun) about that particular bug and spit it back out.

And so, again and again, dad would be on bait duty, cast duty, watch the bubble duty, and bait duty again instead of enjoying a rare moment to catch fish for himself.

After several rounds I threw out a freshly baited hook for J6.  The cicada was still buzzing it’s wings when it hit the water creating ripples and vibrations that I knew would quickly attract a hungry fish.  J6 was getting a bit frustrated with the cycle as well and wanted to catch a fish like others were that day.  So I encouraged her saying “this one is going to catch a fish right away, I know it.  So watch that bubble and as soon as you see it move you yank and reel.”

Just as I predicted, within seconds I could see a fish headed right at her bait.  “Here he comes?” I prompted excitedly and watched as the fish gulped up the bait and pulled the bubble under the surface of the water.  “See I told you!”  I said, very pleased with my fulfilled prophecy only to turn and see J6’s eyes fixed across the pond on the other shore completely oblivious to what was happening on the end of her rod.

That’s when it happened……”Dammit J6! Reel!”.  Surprised by my tone she jumped and began frantically to reel, but it was too late again.  The bubble surfaced and no fish was hooked.

Frustrated by the failing of the perfect scenario I had just set up for my daughter I launched into a hasty explanation as to why she needed to watch her bubble, and how I had told her that a fish would come right away to get it, and how when one did she wasn’t looking, and didn’t see her bubble bob, and that’s why she didn’t get a fish…….

Well, by this point her lip was quivering and she was headed into tears.  Realizing that I was spewing my frustrations at my daughter, bringing her to tears, I put the breaks on and knelt down to her level.  I calmed my voice and explained that I wasn’t mad but that I was simply trying to give her the best possible shot at catching a fish and by not following my instructions she was missing out on that chance that she wanted so badly.

She calmed, we hugged, and went on fishing.  In fact, she ended up reeling in the largest fish of the evening.

As kids do, the experience was quickly forgotten, no grudge was held, and we were best buddies pretty much immediately.  But I’ve hung onto it.  I’ve hashed it again and again.  Mostly because I am ashamed of how I reacted and that I allowed myself to swear in a response to my daughter but also because of the dark mark it left on such a fun, family day.

I found myself, again, wanting to somehow go back and correct that tiny block of time.  To simply enjoy the experience and allow her to learn from loosing the fish rather than from the fear of my disappointment. To somehow clean off that black mark so that the memory could be perfect.

Well, the hard truth is that there is no time machine that can travel back and allow us to alter those experiences.  Sure, it’s frustrating and a bit haunting as they happen so fast and so suddenly and are over in a blink of the eye leaving us pouring over our memory grasping at every detail.  Even if there was some sort of machine that could take us back, I doubt it would be as easy as a rare car hitting a speed of 88 miles per hour and leaving a couple of flamed-out tracks on an empty road.

Some of those haunting experiences that hang on in our memories from the past are life-altering.  So it could never be a simple thing to go back and change them.  And I guess, really, that’s the point.  If they are life-altering in our past, then maybe they can motivate some life-altering changes in our future.  Maybe that remorse and regret can be the catalyst we need in order to make those changes that would really mean something and that would really shape us for the better.

The Photograph On My Wall

Family is always on my mind.

It’s kind of hard for it not to be.  I’m sure if you ready my posts you might suggest that my business secures a spot front and center when it comes to my brain power.  But, me being the only one that is truly in my head, I can honestly tell you that family is always in that spotlight.

Now while my family occupies my thoughts constantly that doesn’t mean that I am boasting in my perfected role as a father.  In my eyes I am far from where I need to be when it comes to family.  But I can say that my thoughts are there because I have a desire to be that man.

I was raised by a father that kept a focus on family.  The sacrifices he made, the gifts he gave, the time he spent illustrated this.  I truly did have a great example laid before me when I made the decision to have a family.  I am grateful for that.

Another example he laid before me was as a business man.  He also owned and operated his own business.  While our two ventures are very different, they also share many similarities one of which is the amount of time I spent as a child in his shop and the amount of time my children are spending in my shop.

It was a family business in every sense of the word that he ran, other than that none of his children picked up the craft and took over for him.  He was the sole proprietor of that business until the day he passed away.  Since his passing I have wondered several times how he felt about that.  What I do know is that his door was always open to us kids to help clean, explore, ask questions, and sit on his lap.

Owning a small business in a small town was not a lucrative situation.  We did not grow up with wealth, enjoying the lap of luxury.  I remember telling how amazing it was as an adult to purchase a 2005 Dodge Stratus just after my wife and I married.  It was the very base model, but I really thought we were living the high life because this car was only a year old, had air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, and EVERYTHING worked!

No, we didn’t bask in the latest and greatest but we had so much.  Looking back with a mature understanding of income and expenses, I am really quite amazed at what he achieved on the income that was brought in during those times.  We did not go without and though I knew we weren’t wealthy, I never felt we were living on a tight income.  I can honestly state that I can sympathize with the stress and pressure he lived with having those responsibilities solely on his shoulders.

I had a chance to read an inspired statement of him that expressed his ability to see past the riches the world would offer to those things that are of more importance.  Another great example he set for me to keep a perspective of what’s most important in this life.  There are always new heights that can be reached, new things that can be had, but is it an investment worth making?

Since my fathers passing I have had opportunities to look back into his life with new perspective.  To see his belongings and the path he left behind through new eyes.  Not only as an adult with much more experience and insight under my belt, but as a son missing a father and recognizing how much that relationship really meant.

Much of his life was spent at his shop, just as I do at mine.  As I recently wandered his shop, looking at the collection he amassed, items collecting dust in storage, and just taking in the character of it all; I thought on his time spent there during the quiet hours of the day.

With his profession being photography I’m sure there was always something to tinker with, test out, a new set of negatives to pick through as he searched for that one shot that had been perfected on his last outing.

But I wonder what is favorite thing was.  With the amount of time he spent within those walls, I wonder what the thing was that he would come back to time and time again.  That would catch his eye every time he walked past it.  That would make him smile again and again, no matter how many times it had made him smile before.

I believe that tonight I recognize what is most likely the answer to that question.

Probably close to six months ago my wife won a photo session at some sort of a raffle.  She made the appointment and got us all dressed up for the occasion so that we could go turn in the ticket and get some updated family photos.

I remember being at work when she arrived with my clean outfit to change into.  I had some ink on my hands that I tried to scrub out as best I could and I wasn’t the most thrilled to leave because I knew I would have to come back after in order to finish the job I was in the middle of.

We arrived in the orchard and the photographer began placing us and snapping away.  You would think growing up as a photographer’s son I would be used to being the subject in the lens, but to this day I still feel uncomfortable having my photo taken.

I remember a few days later picking up the disc of photos for my wife and spending a moment looking through the various family portraits that were taken.  I do recall liking the results, but with all that was going on in my life, they were quickly forgotten.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that my wife re-posted one of the family pictures on Facebook, I believe.  Upon seeing it again, this one photo just grasped my attention.  I can’t pick out one single thing that I just really love about it, but as a whole it has smitten me.

It was quickly placed as my lock screen on my phone and I can honestly say that there has been several times that I have just stared at it, hitting the home button again when the locked screen times out and would go black again.

Having access to a variety of print production capabilities I made up a stretched canvas print, nice and large, and hung it on the wall in my office this afternoon.  I placed it next to my desk so that it would be easy for me to see at any time.  What I didn’t consider, but soon discovered, was that it was also very visible through the window of my office from the production floor.  I found that just moments ago as I was setting up the press for a run that would take me late into the night.

I wasn’t excited for what lay ahead, but a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do, and these needed to be printed tonight so that they would have enough time to dry enabling them to be cut and packaged tomorrow.

As I stood beside my press and reached to wipe down the blanket in preparation for the first sheets to run through, my eyes fixated on the photograph on my wall.  Again I fell in love with the image my eyes saw.  My wife has a beautiful, natural smile on her face.  My daughter standing in front of us just oozing cuteness and joy and my son sitting in my arms with a very handsome gaze that is just off to the side of where the camera is.  My guess is that he spotted some motorized something in the distance that intrigued him.

In that moment it energized me again to do what I needed to do, because that was what I was doing it for.

Although printing is my profession, that photograph on the wall will forever be my greatest work.

And therein lies the answer to my question.  When you wander my dads shop, among his beautiful landscape images, animal portraits, and other pieces that made up his portfolio as a photographer, there are scattered in shots where his family was the subject.  Weddings, school pictures, and more.

I remember being on location with him once.  I was probably around the age of six or seven and had been dressed in period attire and sat on the steps of an old ghost town building.  I can visualize that photograph, matted and framed, placed among the others.

I feel confident in saying that those images were among the things that he cherished most.  The things that would catch his attention and hold it for a moment.  That would bring a smile to his face again and again.  I am sure that those were among the pride of his portfolio and took the podium when the points were tallied for his life’s greatest work.

Fear

I once heard that all anger was a result of fear.

The source of this bit of information was the type of guy that you learned to take everything he said with a grain of salt.  But now, each time I feel the boil of anger rising up inside me, or that I have some sort of an immature outburst, I come back to that thought again.  Typically, to my surprise, I could work backwards through that anger and find something I was afraid of that somehow, someway, prodded that anger to the surface.

It has been a surprising and interesting connection to make.

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I recently had a chance to go on a quick morning ATV ride with my brother.  He and I share a love for the outdoors and also dig a good challenge.  Since he was in my back yard, it was up to me to pick the trails we would explore.

I chose a route that I had been on a couple of times before, but under different circumstances and in my Samurai versus on an ATV.  Viewing it from a logical angle, I felt like the ATVs would make the obstacles that the trail presented easier to manage and the route would be quick to complete.

As we set off we were full of enthusiasm and excitement.  The brisk air filled my lungs like nitrous being injected into a thirsty intake; it rapdily fueled my system into a hyper active state as I bombed down the road.  Soon the easy meander of the road turned into rock steps, hill climbs, and switch-backed descents ultimately bringing us to a stop at the first major obstacle.

It was mid-way down a long hill and the road just dropped off of a tall rock step.  The sand lay dusted across the rock, coating it like a cooking spray, anxiously waiting assist our decent whether we were ready or not.

With the short wheel-bases of the ATV it was inevitable that, without being able to control the decent, we would most certainly do a head-first dive over the handlebars and neither of us were keen to be wearing a neck brace in our future.  So we decided to walk both ATV’s down as controlled as we could.

Well, it probably looked like some sort of a weird rodeo, but we brought both down and were soon off and pushing further down the track.

Probably not more than 100 yards further we hit another rocky giant intent on blocking our progress.  This one was a climb, making it even more hairy as the ATV would most certainly rear up and over smashing you against the hard rock below.  After making several attempts to prove that theory, we again tried the walking method.  But between the slick rocky surface and the tall steps in the rock, the ATV peeled out, and we peeled out, but progress was not found.

Taking a moment to catch our breaths (mostly me, my brother leads a healthier lifestyle than I do), we analyzed the situation.  We mentally drove the hill at every angle we could, but there just wasn’t an obvious solution ahead of us.  Looking back, the road we had just come down would be wildly impossible to go back up.  That was not the solution either.

As we stood there discussing what our options were, I began to be a bit fearful that we would be abandoning the ATV’s at the bottom of this draw and hoofing it out on foot.

That was not a solution either.

Determined to make something work, we took the larger, four wheel drive ATV first.  We manhandled it up and over the obstacle with a lot of grunting, groaning, and hollering out instructions to each other.  We then took a short, sun-rotted strap and somehow wrestled the second ATV partially up the rocks, barely close enough to tie the two ATV’s together.  Finally, full throttle, exhaust blaring, and wheels smoking, the second ATV was pulled up and over.

We hooped and hollered and high-fived.  Re-mounted our rides, and headed further up the trail.

We met plenty more roadblocks that delayed our ride that morning.  Our ATV’s rolled, bucked, and bounced like frothing broncos attempting to buck us off for the last time.  But each time, weighing the options and the fear of turning back to face again what was behind us, we pushed on with the idea that by overcoming one more obstacle we would finally find rest.

Ultimately we conquered the trail that day.  Back at the trailhead with our ATV’s loaded on the trailer, we settled into the seats of my truck, grinning ear to ear, as we headed to retrieve our trophy of cold pizza that was left over from the family lunch we were already an hour late for.

The following week I found myself in another fearful situation at my business.  A couple of decision makers at a large company asked for a breakfast meeting where we would discuss a proposal I had submitted that would bring a large portion of their business our way.

The day before I found myself hungry, but unable to eat.  I struggled to focus and no matter how I tried to steer my thoughts, they kept coming back to that morning meeting and the unknowns of what it would bring.

As I thought on the reasoning for my nervous feelings, weighing why they may or may not choose to make this deal with me, I considered why I was getting so wound up.  The answer I deduced from this pondering was that I was afraid of facing again what was behind me.

This deal could offer a form of financial security that I had been seeking for years.  It could offer up a daily work schedule that I could plan on, that my wife could plan on, that my kids could plan on……again, something I have been working on for years.  It could be an opportunity to finally climb up and over and escape.

As my mind focused on this new view it was almost as if all of my stugglings over the years somehow fit into this box.  But amazingly at the same time, I could trace my successes to this same source.

My fears have driven me to force my way forward.  To seek out the worst case scenarios and find ways to address them.  To over-anylize situations and address them in a manner that would ease my worrying mind.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging everyone out there to live their lives in fear.  I’m sure the health benefits I’ve received from this state of mind have not been advantageous to me.  What I am saying is that it gave me a new view of my fears; a way to embrace them, if you will.

In the end, just like the challenging ATV ride, I conquered the meeting that morning.  I should be signing a contract any day now that will seal that deal and hopefully a bright future for myself as the owner of this business.  The fears I faced leading up to that meeting drove me to seek out solutions to problems that may never even arise.  But it all allowed me to present a well rounded case detailing what I could offer and the time and energy I have put in, and will put in, to make sure their needs are met in every situation.

The moral of the story:

While I don’t have the credentials to present either of the theories as actionable information, I can offer my experience as food for thought.  For me, not only has fear been the root of anger, it has also been the launch-pad for successful growth.

Turning a Page

2018 was an easy year to say goodbye to.

The struggles I faced last year quite simply wore me out.  I feel convinced that I aged a good 5 years over the last several months and the white hairs growing in my beard might be the proof of that.

I recognize the growth I gained from this experience.  I have learned so much as the days passed and I know I am the better for it.  But for goodness-sakes!  I feel like I barely made it through.

Just in the nick of time, our contractors finished their jobs, inspections were passed, we all hustled to get the finishing work done, and an occupancy certificate was issued FINALLY giving us approval to move into our new home.

Then the move was on and we made quick work of it.  Furniture, boxes, shelves; it all had to come to our new home.  The trips back and forth finally petered down as the last items were loaded in the trailer, the lights shut off, and the door locked behind us.

We were able to open in the New Year in our new location.  Although it took much longer than I ever wanted or expected it to, the timing ended up working well.  January 2nd marked that new step for us and we were eager to take it!

Now this one victory is not and will not be a fix-all for the stresses I faced last year.  If I tried to explain all of the pieces of the puzzle you’d have your reading material for the next three years.  But it was a large piece and that will allow me to focus on some of the other turbulence I am striving to smooth out for our business.

I had a 5am wake up call this morning.

You’re supposed to be able to sleep in on your birthday, soaking in all the comfy goodness your bed offers you.  It’s interesting how much I want to sleep, but how hard it is to get a good night’s sleep anymore.  As a child I could sleep and sleep all I wanted, then go to bed at night and sleep some more.  Not anymore.

I guess my daughter had enough sleep for one night because it was her rummaging around in her room and thumping up the hall that brought me back to the world this morning soon after 5am.  Next thing I knew our bedroom door opened allowing the light from the hall to spill in on us.  (J6 has to turn every light in the house on when she get’s up on mornings like this.  She usually then retreats back to her bedroom leaving the entire house fully lit.)

Doing my best to lay perfectly still, my bluff must have worked and she slowly closed our door and, quite surprisingly, quietly let it latch.  It must have been a fluke though, because a mere 10 minutes later I was startled by the bang-latch of her bedroom door slamming shut.

What I learned after tossing and turning in an attempt to add some more zzzz’s to my nights’ rest, was that she was up, dressed, and rearing to go for the day!  My wife shared her frustration with this as the typical morning routine consists of my wife prodding J6 every 5 minutes to take the next step towards being ready to go out the door for school.

After a shower and being greeted with my favorite breakfast made specially for me, I undertook building a fire in our stove to heat up our home for the day.  As my daughter bounced around our living room, coming and going about her business, I inquisitively asked J6 “How come you decided to get up so early today?”  Her cheerful, care-free response was: “Because I wanted to play”.

I later mentioned to my wife in passing how I wish I could wake up so cheerful and full of optimism for the day.  I was feeling quite jealous of her youthful innocence and naivety to how the world treats us adults.  And that’s when my wife spoke a simple truth; “well you’d wake up that way too if you were going to play”.

“Next year syndrome”

I have mentioned before how I’d keep saying “give me a year” to different commitments or complications this past year.  Somehow I hoped that this would solve many of the problems, stresses, and headaches I would experience.  But as the months rolled on in 2018 I began to realize that I was just camouflaging my procrastination with this cloak of a project.

Sure, this project was a big commitment and did eat up a lot of my time.  Yes, it was an added stress in my life that, in reality, should ease a bit now that our business is fully moved over.  Alright, anyone in my situation would feel a bit overwhelmed and want to limit their commitments while they dealt with such a big life event.  But, at the end of the day, I could have seized the opportunity to learn some better time-management techniques and ran my life a bit more efficiently.

What I came to realize is that as these changes come and go I allow them to control my time.  The program I am currently running isn’t working for me, so maybe I need to make a change that allows me to run my schedule versus my projects running it for me.

I had a chance to chat with my wife on the subject.  The problem I am facing is that my day can be so unpredictable.  I can walk into my office, develop a plan of action for the day, and next thing I know it’s 5pm and I have checked one item off of my list.

A printer went down, a quote was needed, a VIP client needed some attention, etc.  There is a lot that goes on during the day that needs the Boss’s attention.  These are items that I can’t schedule and often need addressing now in order to keep the rest of our business flowing properly.  So this is the first hurdle I need to try and figure out how to get over, or at least somewhat manage.

My hope in this new year, starting with my birthday, is to find a way to wake up feeling like I get to play.  Like I have some sort of control over what my day can and will be.  To wake up feeling like it’s a new opportunity facing me versus a brick wall I am trying to chip my way through with a tennis ball knowing there is another brick wall behind it.

I honestly have no idea what my plan is, or how I’m going to make it work.  I’ve never been very good at setting goals and such.  So really I’m just thinking out loud as I present this post.  But I can update you as the year goes on.  Share my successes and my failures.  Share the next page as I turn this one over.

My first step:

I made a list.  I’m going to call it my prayer list.  You might call it a wish list, a priority list, to-do list, whatever.  I’ve done this in the past and I’ve proven it to work.  The results weren’t immediate, but I did see every item on that list through to a successful completion.

Basically I took a sticky note and wrote down the biggest concerns that were on my mind.  Those items that I knew were very important, needed my diligent attention, but that were too hard to solve in just one day, one week, or even one month.

I made this list and told myself each morning I would take a moment, read them over, and ponder on them a bit.  In my case, I say a prayer over them as well and seek the counsel of a higher power as I try to find solutions to the concerns they present.

I don’t spend much more time than that on them at that moment.  But what I realize it does for me is keeps that list fresh in my mind so as I go through my day ideas can pop in, I can recognize things related to those items, and it allows me to put mental bullet points below each item.  These bullet points eventually build into a guidebook that leads to the solution.

Now this doesn’t mean I only focus on that item for a few minutes each day.  Often, as I find time, I will pick a point and do my diligent research, studying, etc. in an effort to find the solution I need.  This is another way that I build my mental bullet points that add to the mental pondering I do for each item.

I don’t really know how else to describe it.  That morning pondering, wish, prayer, or whatever else you’d like to call it, list, somehow keeps those items fresh on my mind and allow me to mentally work on them day by day, and week by week.  Adding points here and there until I can recognize the right solution for me.

Like I mentioned before, the results aren’t immediate.  But it helps me avoid those “panic moments” when I’ve put aside a larger problem, only to remember it a month later as a wave of anxiety washes over me because I haven’t given it any attention while I dealt with everything else that’s demanded of me.

Step two…….

Step two is on my list….  So I don’t have that one yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.

 

Time…..again

 

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Most of you readers would be aware that we purchased an old Hardware store early this year in an attempt to solve many problems our business was facing.  My wife needed a bit more convincing than I did that this was the right building to purchase, but supported me as the contracts were signed and the work began to renovate the space so we could move our business from it’s much, much smaller leased space into this larger owned space.

Nearly 7 months later……I’m beginning to wonder if she was right and I was wrong.  This HARDWARE store has been alot of HARD-WORK.  And not just the physical kind.  There has been much mental and emotional effort as we’ve pushed through roadblocks, jumped through hoops, cut red tape, and all those other metaphors of reaching and pushing past challenges that have been placed in our path.

Although the Hardware Store had been closed for years, inevitably when we would be there working someone would walk through the front door, pause in surprise as they saw the construction in progress, and ask, still puzzling a bit, “Is there a Hardware Store around….?”

So we decided it was time for the HARDWARE letters to come down to avoid this confusion.  Instead of pulling all the letters, I made the decision to only pull the last A and E and replace them with an O and K made from black tape.

We were well into the project and still without a solid completion date in sight.  I spelled out what our experience up to that point had been, and what the fortune tellers would tell of our future.

The result……:

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Each year my brother-in-law and I have created a tradition of hitting The Dutton to go elk hunting.  I’ve grown to love and look forward to it every year.  Typically I find myself stressing over work which only adds to the anxiety of dealing with horses on a mountain for three or four days (I’m not a cowboy and will never claim to be.  I prefer to ride the four wheeled type over the four hoofed type).  But once I’m there the mountain slowly calms this stress and anxiety as the cool winds and wide open vistas overtake me.

This year, I knew it would be extra busy being in the midst of this building project.  I chose not to get an elk tag so I didn’t have that obligation weighing on me as the dates for the hunt neared.

I was excited as the stars began to align as we discussed the hunt.  Work at my business had eased giving me a break from my duties there.  At the building, the power company needed to shut our power off for a few days so they could remove the overhead lines and run underground lines.  The weekend we planned for The Dutton was just right for this process.

All we had to do was arrange for trenches to be dug and schedule an inspection for the following Monday.  The plan was set and we were ready to go!!!

Well, to keep a long story short, it wasn’t that easy.  Instead of having a few days of time away, I ended up wracking up the miles on my truck with back and forth trips from the mountain to the building, troubleshooting, making phone calls, hand digging portions of four foot deep trench, and slopping through the thick mud that the torrential rains brought.

To be honest, it wasn’t devastating to me or even that surprising.  I had prepared myself for disappointment because I was a bit skeptical of everything seeming to line up so perfectly.  I was, however, grateful for a couple of quick overnight stays on The Dutton with my brother-in-law and a couple of other great guys.  I also enjoyed the quiet drives as I went back and forth, beating the same pavement over and over again.  It gave me time to think, to listen, and to reflect.

I also very much enjoyed the dark, cool evenings out under the stars.  I have said it before and I will testify of it again; I am quite certain the stars up on The Dutton are multiplied over any other night sky scene I’ve witnessed.  Somehow I am forced to take pause each time I look up.

On my youth camp trips with my dad, not only would we always plan to catch a sunset, but often he would extend the legs of his tripod and aim his lens at the sky after dark had come.  He explained once how he could open the shutter for an extended period of time and actually capture the rotation of the earth as the tiny small dots of stars would extend into streaks over the minutes.  I don’t recall every seeing the finished sample of one of these shots, but ever since I purchased a camera of my own I have wanted to try this for myself.

I have thought about making this effort over and over again all summer long.  But I just never made the time, or occasion, to make it happen.  October is too late in the season to really capture this type of night sky photography.  But I was there, under that beautiful sky with a break in the clouds, so this was my chance.

I extended the legs of my tripod and aimed my lens to the sky.  Being a novice, I had to take several shots playing with the various settings until I found something that seemed to work.  My first exposure was for 2 minutes, trying to utilize the natural light as much as I could.  I opened the shutter with the Bluetooth link from my phone, instead of a cable release, and waited for the shutter to close.

What showed was not what I had hoped for.  The stars were there, they just didn’t quite match what I was aiming for.  My expectation was so much higher when I compared what my eyes saw versus what was displayed on the small screen on my camera.  I tried a few more times, adjusting settings just a little bit.  But continued to achieve the same result.  The vibrant scene I was hoping to capture just wasn’t quite there yet.

Feeling a bit let down, but realizing that each 2 minute shot seemed to take a very long time.  I decided to just set a longer exposure and go for the shot my dad had described years ago.  So I adjusted a few other settings to compensate for the longer exposure and then triggered the seventeen minute wait.

I wandered around in the dark, stood by the fire and shuffled a few of the burning logs with my shoe, stared up into the skies and let my mind wander free.  My thoughts jumped from the building project to my family, from some malfunctioning lights inside my truck to the following days’ weather and what it might bring.

Feeling like I had killed enough time I meandered back over to the tripod.  I could see the face of my phone, that was managing the exposure, and was surprised to see that only about 10 minutes had passed.  So, again, I walked back over to the campfire to soak in a bit more warmth, becoming mesmerized so easily by its lapping flames and popping sparks.

After several more seemingly random thoughts had crossed my mind I headed back thinking for sure time would be up.  My phone was on the final minute and half count down.  I stood there patiently waiting for the shutter to close, making sure I kept my distance so as not to create any vibrations that might blur the image.  Finally the shutter clicked close and I anxiously awaited for the image to appear.

I was a bit disappointed at first.  The image looked blurred and distorted, but upon further inspection I realized that the stars had streaked and the milky way had smudged just a bit.  I literally had captured the earths rotation just as my dad described.  The image was not the vibrant array of streaking stars that I was expecting to see (I tend to set a pretty high standard for myself) but it was very clear that the motion of the earth was represented well.

It wasn’t until I viewed these images on the larger screen of my laptop that I also realized that even the 2 minute exposure had captured a small portion of the earth’s rotation.  The stars were not small light spots, but small light streaks.  Very subtle, but quite obvious as well.

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It surprised me.  It didn’t seem like 2 minutes would be long enough to notice a 24-hour cycle in progress.  But there it was in front of me on the screen.  2 minutes was nothing, but yet progress continued during that two minutes whether I perceived it or not.

The thing that really scared me was when I compared the 2 minute exposure to the 17 minute exposure.  The streaks lengthened out, the Milky Way was much more visible, and even the pattern of the stars was clear, showing the axis of the earth’s rotation.

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What really struck me was the undisputed evidence of time passing.  It was almost as if I felt like I had control to speed time up and to slow it down.  Like if I didn’t acknowledge that an hour or a week had passed, it didn’t really happen.  As if time was somehow gauged off of my behavior, activities, or efforts.  But what was laid before me was proof that I didn’t have control.  That something much worse was happening; time passed without acknowledging me.

I remember once being up on the mountain to cut a load of winter firewood.  I was slowly driving down a dirt back road scanning the forest for dead and fallen trees that I could harvest.  I spotted a candidate near the edge of the road up ahead and pulled up next to it.

Often when these trees lay on the ground for any period of time they rot quickly rendering them useless as firewood.  Typically the thump of a kick or breaking of some branches will be a quick indicator if the wood is solid or rotten.  So I pulled up next to this tree and jumped out to do a quick assessment.

With my truck having a manual transmission, I just threw it into neutral and didn’t bother putting the parking brake on because I was on flat ground and it felt like it was going to stay put.  Besides, all I needed to do was give this log a kick and that would tell me if I was backing in to cut and load or heading on down the road.

As I stepped over to the fallen tree I began hearing gravel behind me.  I turned to see my truck slowly inching backward.  Again, we were on level ground so it didn’t concern me.  I watched waiting for it to settle and stop again.  But it didn’t.  It continued to slowly roll and began to gain speed.

It still wasn’t moving any quicker than a slow walk so I walked back over and around the door I had left open to brace myself against the door jam so that I could bring it to  a stop again.  But what I learned was that 7,000 pounds of rolling mass doesn’t stop very easily and to add to the momentum the truck was now aiming towards the edge of the road where the road sloped off and would soon meet a steep downhill grade in the forest.

I pushed harder only to realize that the heavy diesel truck didn’t even notice I was there.  I knew this was a loosing battle so I hopped into the drivers seat and hit the brake finally bringing to truck to a halt before disaster.

That same feeling of insignificance was what I felt as I stared at those streaks in that night sky.  The mass of time was pushing onward, rolling forward, without bias to anything or anyone.  Every day, every hour, every minute, every second would see it’s progress forward.  I was foolish to feel that I some how had control or was somehow weighed into its progress.

My only control over time is how I spend it.  Every day, every hour, every minute, every second…….I better make it count!