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!

Neglect

“What else am I neglecting?”

I couldn’t help but think as I slowly rode the fourwheeler back to the house in the dark after moving water on the field next door.  Tears left cold streaks down my cheeks as the cool breeze of the night air brushed by.

The hurt was deep as I thought about the friend I had just lost a few days before.  She had been a close companion for the last 11 years and I wasn’t ready for her to go.  Even so, I was struggling trying to understand why this loss hurt so bad.  Even now emotion brims to the surface as I remind myself that she’s gone.

I’ve experienced loss in my life.  I should be better at this process, maybe even desensitized a bit.  Beginning with a daughter that didn’t make it beyond 19 weeks of a pregnancy and only lived for about 45 minutes outside of the womb.  Then a father-in-law who I helped care for through the last several years of his life.  And most recently the loss of my dad, a man I miss on nearly a daily basis.  All of these were deaths I experienced first-hand.  So I was no stranger to that as I sat in the small room and kept her company as she took her last breaths.

“Why is the hurt of this passing lingering so long?”  I continued to wonder for days and weeks following her passing.  That hurt is part of the reason it has taken so long to document it here.

The question kept coming with every wave of emotion.   And why do I question it?  You see, this is different.  “Her” is a pet.  A dog.  That is why I keep having that question arise.  Yes, a human friend or loved one, it makes sense to mourn their loss for some period of time.  But I feel like with a pet that bond doesn’t run as deep.  I don’t allow myself to become that attached to an animal.

But apparently I do.

We adopted Izzy from a family who had brought her into their home for their kids.  Having a puppy was so much fun at first, but then she grew, gained a youthful energy, and the work began.  Soon none of the kids wanted to walk her, play with her, feed her, and so the responsibility fell to the parents.  That was not their plan.

Word spread to us that this puppy needed a home and we already had a young dog that needed a companion, so we went and picked her up.

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Izzy needed a lot of work.  She was energetic with no sense of direction.  But with some consistent input, she picked up manners and commands quickly and became one of the best dogs I have ever known.

It was pretty evident from the beginning that she was mine.  She loves attention from anyone who will give it to her, but I was always in her sight and it was my side that she wanted to be next to.

Because she was such a well mannered dog, it allowed me to confidently bring her with me regularly.  She would come to work with me, camping, adventures.  She loved the ride even if that’s all it was; just a ride, never to leave the vehicle.

She learned to heel, so she rarely was leashed.  She learned to stay until I, and only I, gave the “ok” to get up and follow.  I could walk across the street with her, stopping at both sides of the road to look for traffic, with her in perfect step.  I would then have her lie down next to the door of the store I was entering and tell her “stay”.  It didn’t matter how long I spent inside, she would not move from that spot.  Strangers could visit her, other dogs walk by, it didn’t matter the distraction, she was waiting for me to return and give the “ok” to move.

She was also great around food.  Especially in a situation where you have many young nephews and nieces around, holding food at just the right height for a dog to snitch a bite or two, it was important to me that she wait for my “ok” before she help herself.  Then, she would very gently take the food with her lips first, as to not “bite the hand that fed her”.  I never worried about even the smallest child giving her a treat because I knew she was a gentle pup.

One of the things I loved the most about my pup Izzy was her companionship.  She became my faithful companion on my adventures.  Hot or cold, long or short, she was eager to go with me and loved it just as much as I did, maybe even more.  Down dusty, bumpy roads, up steep nail biting climbs.  Leaping across washes and bush wacking through the sage brush.  She did it all with me and loved every minute of it.

I never had to worry that she would run off.  She would wander and roam but always return back to check in.  On morning runs she would criss-cross my path over and over again heading out into the bushes to explore smells.  Sometimes getting far ahead of me, or lagging far behind.  But never loosing sight of me and all it took was a quick whistle and she would be at my side.

Recently I could see age taking it’s tole on her.  She couldn’t quite keep up with the fourwheeler as I headed to the field to move the water line anymore.  Just two or three throws of the ball was enough, where as before she’d go till she was foaming at the mouth and we were worried about heat stroke.  I now had to help her into the back of my truck where before she was already mid-air before I even let the tailgate down.

But I thought we still had a few more years before I’d have to say goodbye.

She stopped eating and a physical change was evident.  She lacked energy and was visibly unsteady on her feet.  At the vet clinic it was discovered that she had a very large tumor in her abdomen that was crowding and shutting down her organs.  An attempt at surgery could be made, but at her age, and with damage that was already done, it was unlikely she would make it through.

I don’t know that I could count how many miles of road we’ve driven, or how many hours of hiking, how many nights under the stars we’ve spent together, or how many sticks and balls she’s chased at my hand. But it adds up in my heart as I realize that she won’t be coming on my next adventure with me.

I miss her daily, as she was apart of my life daily.  The hurt comes back again and again as I think about her.

But missing her is only apart of that hurt.  The other part is regret.

This year has been such a hectic year for me.  We are remodeling a commercial building to move our business into.  Our largest client is considering major changes in their production which could be a huge game changer for our business either for the good or for the bad.  These two things on top of other every day life changes and commotion has filled my days with tasks, duties, challenges, etc.

……..oh not to mention the STRESS!!!

Hours turned into days, and weeks, and months.  I can’t believe I am already seeing Halloween decorations in stores and talking about upcoming dates in November.  I have had my nose so deep in these projects I have hardly come up for a breath.

I have neglected my hobbies with my Samurai parked under a shed and my camera sitting….somewhere.  My shoes don’t have any sand in them from being out in the hills.  I’ve been camping once.  I’ve been fishing once.

I’ve neglected the things that feed my soul as I’ve put the business first each day.

That’s what contributed to this death hitting hard.  She was my pet.  She depended on me for food, shelter, water.  But she also depended on me for companionship and love.  Sure, I’d see her each morning as I brought her breakfast.  Most mornings she’d follow me out to the field as I moved water.  She’d get a few pets and a “good puppy” from me.  But then it was back in the kennel as I headed off to work for another long day.

Mom would get her out, J6 would play with her, but there was a visible excitement when I arrived on the scene.  She loved me and found joy in my companionship as I did in hers, but she didn’t get to choose when she got that interaction.  That was dependent on me.

This last year, the last several months of her life.  I did not provide her the joy and companionship she deserved.  I have been so tied up with these projects that I have neglected, not only her, but many other very, VERY important things in my life, all with the precursor of; “just give me a little longer and things will get back to normal.”  “Give me a year” is a common promise that comes from my lips again and again.

These projects are important and my hope is that they will provide a future stability that will allow me to give more attention to my loved ones and hobbies.  But I think there is more I can do now to not allow them to overshadow everything else.

Now I’m not saying that I should be turned into the authorities for animal neglect.  Izzy had a great home, better than most.  What I am saying is that, again, I lost sight of the things I loved because of the focus I had put on my business.  It took the loss of, who I truly consider one of my best friends, Izzy, to realize that.  It has been a stiff reality check.

The collar I made for her from a length of chain now hangs from the mirror of my truck, along with a couple of other visual reminders of important pieces of my life.  I hope to not forget the gift she was to me during her life, but also the reminder she represented in death.

The final service I was able to preform for her was to wrap her in a covering and carry her from the clinic, lifeless, in my arms.  I dug the deep hole in the earth that would act as her final resting place as I considered the deep love I had for that pup.  She was quite simply the best.

I gave her one last pet as an attempt to transfer the feelings of love and appreciation I had for her and I lowered her limp, lifeless body into her grave to be covered by the dirt I had just shoveled out.

This would be the final resting place for that pup’s body, but I’m sure she’s now chasing shadows of birds and butterflies in a long grassy valley, splashing through a cool creek with a big grin on her snout.

Izzy, I’m sorry you didn’t get more of my love and attention over the last few months of your life.  But know that I am grateful for the faithful companionship you provided to me throughout your life.  My adventures just won’t be the same without you.  I will remember you with fondness and gratitude.

Love you pup!

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A Monster

IMG_3468It’s been too long since my last post.  If you know me personally then you know that I’ve been completely flooded with the various business aspects of my life.

My wife hosted a game night last week with some friends and one of the challenges posed was an attempt to keep three balloons in the air at one time.  Seems easy enough, right?  Well, give it a try before you pass judgment!

The sound to start was given and I tossed the first balloon in the air, followed by the second.  My confidence was high as the third left my hand until I noticed the first nearing the ground.

Within a matter of three or four swats I was leaping to and fro, flailing my hands at the balloons in a desperate attempt to keep any of them from touching the ground.  The game was over in an instant as a balloon settled to the ground, but not without huge physical exertions on my part.

And so my days have gone; with the number of balloons I am attempting to keep in the air, my exertions continue day after day with the hope of “in a year it will be better” always looming on the horizon.

I thought I would share a quick story that made me pause and think as I related my daughter’s challenges to my own.

Our poor daughter has been battling ear aches lately.  On Friday night her ear started hurting again.  My wife doctored it with some oils, and we got her to bed with a heat pack. She went to sleep easily and we felt like we were successful for another day.

A couple of hours later my wife and I readied ourselves for bed. I was looking forward to not only a somewhat early bedtime, but also the fact that I didn’t have an obligation in the morning to get me up early.

As is often the case, just as I started to doze off I decided I needed to roll over one more time….and that roll over triggered my mind to start working again. Pretty soon I realized that I was in full on work mode as my mind reeled with projects, problems, and worries. Trying to sleep was useless.

So I headed out in the living room, got a drink, and sat down in my recliner to watch some mindless videos on YouTube in an effort to ease my mind out of work mode and back into rest mode.

About an hour later I was just starting to feel tired when I heard “mommy, mommy” from the kids room. I hurried in so my wife could stay resting. J6 complained that her ear was hurting.  I reheated the heat pack and stroked her hair until she drifted off to sleep again.

I then went in and climbed back into my bed only to toss and turn for another 40 minutes before I began to drift.  Again I heard “mommy, mommy” coming from the kids room. So, Being the good husband that I am….I knew Melanie would want a chance to attend to her child, so I woke her up for her turn.

She was able to ease Joanna back to sleep quickly and come back to bed.

All too quickly our room was filled with light as morning came. Not having much time to spend together during the week, I seized the moment to snuggle up to my wife for a cuddle and an attempt to doze off for a bit longer.

In an effort to make up for the lost sleep from the night before, and the week before, I closed my eyes and began to drift just as I heard some sort of cry out in the hall. I laid there half awake, and half asleep waiting for the “mommy, mommy” we had heard the night before. But it didn’t come.

Suddenly, frantic screams from J6 came in rapid fire causing T2 to join in as well. This distressed cry from my offspring caused me to go into full on cave-man defender mode! I flung the covers off and leapt out of bed. My track running days of High School coursed through my veins as it only took me two strides to reach the bedroom door. Pausing briefly as I made the hallway I realized the screams were coming from the bathroom.

Again with lighting speed I reached the bathroom ready to take out and foe that was threatening my daughter.

As I reached the doorway the first thing I saw was Joanna backed up against the wall as stiff as a board with terror in her eyes. Her hands were clasped together and held tight up against her chest.

My heart pounded and I heaved in deep breaths. My eyes scanned the bathroom searching for the monster that I was about to battle.

Not seeing anything I frantically said, “what what!”

That’s when she revealed the location of the beast. I followed the line her pointing finger drew straight up to the window where I discovered…..a moth fluttering against the glass trying to escape…..

…..all I could do was drop to my knees and chuckle at the whole experience. I then went to the window, and pinched the moth delicately between my pointer finger and thumb, and disposed of it, folded in a square of toilet paper, into the garbage can.

Of course after that adrenaline rush, any attempt to try and go back  to sleep would have been futile.  Funny enough, I didn’t feel irritated or mad at the fact that I had been drawn out of bed early in the morning, after a restless night, by my daughter being afraid of a moth.  Instead I felt an increased love for my daughter.

As I stroked her hair during the night in an attempt to sooth her back to sleep, all I could think of was her health and well-being.  I was concerned that the ear ache may not be only an ear ache, but could be a symptom of something greater.  A mere side-effect of a storm that was brewing.

I ached for the pain she was having to try and sleep though and tried to will the pain to transfer from her body to mine as my hand ran along her beautiful red hair.

That morning all I could see up against the wall was an exhausted and startled little girl who was delirious because of the lack of sleep and the efforts that she had exerted fighting back at the infirmity she was battling.

Because of the circumstances leading up to that bathroom visit that morning, that little moth had been turned into a monster to her.  She’s not afraid of a moth.  She knows a moth can’t hurt her or cause her any harm.  But that morning, with her cup already brimming, the startle that moth introduced into her life was suddenly magnified into a monster.

The sayings go: “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “The needle that broke the camel’s back”, or “finding a straw in a hay stack”…..or something like that.  These are all aimed at the idea of small and simple things becoming a stumbling block in our lives.

Why do we allow that to happen?  It seems like we should be able to easily identify that small and simple thing and handle it as such.

Last night we sat out on our deck enjoying an amazing light show the thunder storm east of us was providing.  “Sheet lighting”, or at least that’s what Google told us it was, danced through the clouds, lighting off in random locations across the horizon as rapidly as a strobe light.  It was brilliant to observe.

But one of the most peculiar things was that the lighting was not producing thunder.  Every once in a while you would hear the rumble that you have learned to anticipate whenever you see a flash of lightning.  But this beautiful display of power that was playing out in a 180 degree view across the horizon was hardly producing any sound at all.

It was just a super wide-screen show that was being played out in silence before us.  The turmoil that was boiling in the skies, frantically acting and reacting overhead, was somehow playing out without the thunderous rumbles it would normally produce.  We were watching in still, peaceful, silence as the storm played out and moved on.

My hope is that I can somehow learn to manage my schedule, stresses, and loads in a similar manner.  That the turmoil of the day and duties demanded of me can be managed in a way so as not to turn the moths into monsters.

The lightning storms will always come.  That’s just part of being a business owner.  There are just too many variables to ever aspire to be on top of it all, ready for anything that comes.  Those lightning storms will always happen no matter how organized or educated we think we are.  The trick is keeping the boom at bay.

The Struggle

img_3091.jpgMy wife never ceases to amaze me.  My children are so blessed to have her as their mother.  She is constantly attending to their needs and ever actively searching for the next learning opportunity, engaging activity, and skill developing experience she can find to help our children learn, grow, experience, and expand their understandings.

The most recent of these was the purchase of a butterfly kit.  It consisted of a few silk-weaving caterpillars in a small plastic container.  Over the coming weeks the caterpillars would weave their silk, living out their adolescent lives and eventually work their way up to the lid of the container where they would shed their outer skin as a chrysalis encasing worked it’s way up their bodies.

The transformation was exciting to watch and what it left us with was three hardened chrysalises where the caterpillars once were.  Two were hanging from the lid and one had fallen to the bottom of the container.  Already, the original count of caterpillars were down with our hope resting on these final three.

The kit included a pop-up netted enclosure for the chrysalises to be moved to as we awaited the exciting unavailing of the eventual butterflies.  The kit also included a small plastic standard where the lid of the container, chrysalises still attached, could be rested for easy viewing.

The new pop-up netting home was erected, the standard placed and the lid rested on top carefully as to ensure the two chrysalises’ safety.  A small potted flower that Mom had gotten for Mother’s Day was also inserted in to the new home and finally a small flower-looking dish, dripped with the kit included butterfly food, was placed in anticipation of the final emerging of butterflies.

All that was left now was to move the final chrysalis that had fallen to the floor.  Our concern was that it was no longer living and that becoming detached was a sign of that.  Of course, Momma wasn’t going to pick it up, so Daddy was summoned to orchestrate the move.

As I reached in, I was surprised at how hard the outer shell felt.  I gently gripped it between my pointer finger and thumb and lifted it out and rested it on the palm of my hand.  My wife then dabbed it with a cotton swab in an attempt to remove any silk that would interfere with the newly emerged butterfly.

J5 wanted to feel.  So I lowered my hand to her level and she reached out and gently dabbed the outer shell with her finger.  Suddenly the tail end of the chrysalis began flicking about wildly as a reaction to being prodded.  J5 and Momma shrieked and jumped back in surprise.  I will admit that I was quite startled as well, but luckily kept my wits about me and held my hand steady as the small chrysalis flicked and rolled about in the palm of my hand.  After the surprise of the movement settled, relief was expressed that we still had three soon-to-be butterflies resting peacefully in their new sanctuary.

Anticipation over the event built as the days pressed on.  They were checked on multiple times each day in the hopes that some new sign would appear indicating that the new butterflies would now emerge.

Finally Momma noticed one of the chrysalises turning darker and darker.  This meant that development was nearing it’s end and the butterfly would soon show itself.  Lunch was had and to her amazement at the next look there was a beautiful butterfly clinging to the netted side flicking it’s wings.

The second butterfly emerged the next day leaving only the chrysalis laying on the ground awaiting it’s turn.  Although we had seen it’s life manifested as it was moved over, there was still concern that laying on the ground it may not develop as easily as the others and that it may not make it through the transformation.

Another day passed and still only two butterflies flitted around the net-encased home.  Landing on flowers, pumping their wings, and sipping at the provided food.  They would need to be released soon so they could fly into the world, lay eggs, and beckon on the next generation.

Soon enough, that sure sign of the darkening chrysalis showed itself and silently, yet surely, the third and final butterfly emerged to join it’s comrades in adulthood.

The decision was made to release the butterflies this morning in our back yard.  It was cool out and a slow and steady breeze was blowing.  We brought the enclosure out and set it on a side table.  The top was zipped open and again Daddy was enlisted to help J5 encourage the butterflies on to her hand where it could be lifted out into the open air.

Daddy instructed J5 that she needed to be gentle.  That she couldn’t just grab and hold a butterfly because it could damage it’s fragile wings making it unable to fly.  She did a great job coaxing the first butterfly from my hand on to hers where she stood fixated on it’s small and beautifully colored wings.

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Then it suddenly flapped up and launched into the air.  We all oooed and aaawwwed as it fluttered low to the ground and then landed abruptly in the grass.  Then terror struck as Daniel the cat, already hunched down at the sight of the moving object, took three strides and pounced directly onto the small, fragile, butterfly.

Of course our disapproval was voiced and he turned his head to our direction with a look of “what!?!?!” in his eyes as we briskly made our way towards the scene.  Daniel was pushed off and away and the butterfly was carefully retrieved.

It’s wings were battered and an injury to it’s abdomen was evident.  But it stood erect on my hand and pumped it’s wings a time or two.  Not knowing of anything else that could be done for this butterfly, it was placed high on a leaf and left there to rest.

The cats were chased away as the second butterfly was lifted from it’s enclosure and out into the open air by J5.  It was observed closely and then taken over to another tree and deposited safely on a high leaf.

Finally the last butterfly was lifted out.  Again it was observed closely in an attempt to take in every detail.  As J5 was hemming and hawing over where to place it, it pumped up it’s wings and launched into the air.  We watched as it flew high above our home and headed towards a tall cottonwood tree.

We could see it attempt a landing, then fly back out, again attempt another landing, and finally it disappeared into the leafed branches.  We continued to watch intently, but the  butterfly was never seen again.

We made the rounds a final time, the injured butterfly still standing strong on it’s leaf and butterfly number 2 stood contently on it’s leaf.  We said goodbye and headed into our home to attend to the morning chores with the satisfaction of releasing those simple but beautiful butterflies into their new and wide open home.

As I drove into town and began my work day, my mind kept coming back to that little injured butterfly.  Would it make it?  Would it go on to be a strong mother, or productive father?  Would it get the chance to fly high up into the sky and experience the world it had just been thrust into?

Then I suddenly wondered if it was the butterfly that emerged from the chrysalis that had become detached and laid on the ground.  It had to fight through being a caterpillar and was the last to encase itself only to become detached and fall to the ground.  It was the last to be moved to it’s new home where it had to be cleaned of the silk mess it had fallen into.  It was then laid on the ground where, again, the last of it’s group, it had to fight it’s way out of it’s encasing on the ground rather than having the advantage of hanging from the lid.  Finally, feeling the freedom of flying through the air, it was pounced on by a predator and left to sit alone on a leaf to recover.  Wings damaged, injured and hurting, would it be able to fight on again?  Would it make it?  Was that it’s lot in life, to struggle on every single day?

When compared to the other two; one flying away strong and vibrant, ready to move on to the next step easily with the other sitting healthy and strong on a leaf, taking it’s time and choosing when it was ready to go; this butterfly seems to have drawn the short straw.

I reflected back on a show that my wife presented as part of this butterfly experience.  It stood out to me that a female butterfly will lay 300 eggs in its life.  Of those 300 eggs, only 1% will survive to adulthood.  Those odds just aren’t that great.  As I think on that 1%, I considered this damaged and broken butterfly.  It made it because it was willing to fight on even though it seemed to have constantly been dealt a bad hand.  Would that percentage be even less if some weren’t prepared to fight through the struggle?

With it’s damaged wings, it’s broken and bruised parts, it has a choice.  It can give up and let the odds win or it can fight on and prove the odds wrong.  All three butterflies may survive through their adulthood.  All three may fly far and wide, seeing a portion of the world in all it’s glory and wonder.  All three may fulfill their calling of becoming father’s or mother’s to a new generation of beautiful butterflies.  But of the three, who will gain the most satisfaction from those accomplishments?  The ones who had it easy, or the one that struggled and fought every step of the way?

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful”

-Sigmund Freud