It’s Part of the Furniture

I’ve been toying with the idea to go “all in” on my artwork. It’s been many years since I bled ink and ate pencil shavings for breakfast.

One painter described why aspiring artists have a hard time transitioning from rookie to pro.

Wait for it…

They put their supplies away! It’s really that simple. They pack up and move onto the next thing. She explained that this behavior does not exist in the world of a pro, that their paint, canvases, and easels were all “part of the furniture.”

This is a fascinating insight. As I look around my living space I see cameras, lenses, strobes, speakers, keyboards, record player, and variety of other elements that show my love for photography and music. These elements are “messy” but I use them so frequently and they are such a part of me that they somehow become acceptable as “part of the furniture.”

THE CHALLENGE: Look around your space. What do you see? Is it a sewing machine? Bicycle? Camping gear? Weights? Tools? What do you use so often that it rarely gets put away, if ever? This is a good indicator of where to plot yourself on your goals and priorities map. Does your “furniture” align with what you truly long for most? Maybe it is time to trade your recliner for an “easel.”

Digging for Cables

In most situations, I’m a quiet guy. Somehow my dad nicknamed me “chatterbox” as child. The safety of my own home is probably the only time I lived up to such a name.

To this day I still hear people around me say, “watch out for the quiet ones, once they snap they’ll kill you.” Can’t say I’ve ever lived up to that.

In part however, I think there is some truth to the idea that the quiet folks tend to have a little more “clack” to their thunder, a little more “cold calculation” as words erupt like lava from a once stagnant volcano.

But it’s not just the quiet ones we need to be wary of. I think we ALL have an underground cable that if split will electrocute whomever dared to grasp the shovel.

I’m saddened with how quickly people go digging for cables. They long for contention and discord as if severed relationships were the rule and not the exception. They speak truth with no restrain, intent to hurt, intent to cause damage.

THE CHALLENGE: Brutal honesty (even if a skewed opinion) is often the shovel that will get you zapped. Brutal honesty has merit, but lacks sustainability. In dealing with those around you, look for the signs posted “warning, underground cable.” Stay away, dig somewhere else. Every personality has some territory that can be explored freely. Use tact. Use love.

As for your own cables, keep your signs posted. Avoid rust and decay. Sometimes we victimize ourselves when boundaries aren’t declared early and firmly.

Photo by: Ira

Ignore That Too!

My mother-in-law has many gifts and talents, among which is a passion for quilting.  Browsing through the used bookstore recently, I picked up a title that I thought would help me better understand what makes a quilt worthy of regard.

“Plain and Simple” is a true story of an urban California woman, Sue Bender, who developed an obsession for the Amish and eventually lived among their people to discover their unique culture for herself.  The curiosity was initiated in the 1960s over a spectacular Amish quilt hanging in a department store.  Years later, in the fall of 1981, Sue found three strange looking dolls in a folk art gallery store.  She learned these dolls originated from the Amish and over a six month period received twelve of these dolls from seven different women.

Sue observed that the dolls had no face.  They were silent and serene.  There was no pecking order.  None was better or worse than the others.  They didn’t have to perform or prove anything.  No voice said, “Be happy, cute, or pretty.”  No voice said, “Be a star.”

She continues… “In my world, everyone has a face, and many of us try to stand out.  In their simplicity, these faceless dolls said more with less.  They left more to the imagination.  Maybe accepting who they are, they don’t waste their strength trying to change or compete.”

I’m reading this book to my daughters.  My twelve year old has developed a talent for crocheting.  She has made dozens of her own stuffed animals and other clever creations.  Yesterday, she presented me with a surprise gift, a faceless doll.

Adding to the depth of her message, and a lesson for all, was a message born of pure childlike innocence best explained in her handwritten letter.

“P.S. I know the bag says, ‘Happy Birthday’ on it, just ignore it!”

“P.P.S. I also know it says, ‘To Skyla, Love Grammy and Grampy on it, ignore that too!”


What a great way to magnify the message of a faceless doll.  We just need to learn what to ignore.  Truth be told, I didn’t even notice the elements of the bag she was asking me to overlook.  Fancy bows and glittery gifts stopped catching my eye many years ago, but there is a lot more work to do in the art of “overlooking.”  Even though I know we are all crafted from crooked timber, I still spend too much time marveling over the incompetence of humanity at large.

THE CHALLENGE: Noah’s ark couldn’t have smelled very appealing, but it was much safer inside than out in the storm.  Maybe your workplace stinks.  Maybe your family stinks.  Maybe your school stinks. When a patch or stitch in your quilt stinks, approach it like an ark.  Approach it like a faceless doll.  Approach it like the wise innocence of a twelve-year-old child who knows what to look beyond in order to get to the real gift and message!  A “faceless” approach will allow you to “FACE LESS” of the unnecessary noise, drama, and distractions of a turbulent world.

Survive the Ground

Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season contained a solid lesson.  Steelers hosted the Patriots and it came down to the wire.  Great games are always decided by a key play or two and this one was no different.  With less than a minute remaining in regulation, the Steelers’ tight end (Jesse James) caught what appeared to be a touchdown to secure the win.  Instead…they lost.

The NFL rulebook states that if a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass he “must maintain control of the ball until afterhis initial contact with the ground.”  During the lengthy official review, it was deemed evident that James did not “survive the ground” and the touchdown was overturned.  Game over.

Survive the Ground

The sequence of these events reminded me of our goals and resolutions.  I started 2017 with some clear goals that would demand a lot of attention.  While some goals were achieved, others were virtually stillborn.

The first obstacle struck early in the year and I dropped the ball.  I didn’t anticipate variables like the Grim Reaper, traveling, moving, or new goals to surface along the way.  Of course, these are all excuses.  Excuses make the ball pop out.

“Good resolutions are a pleasant crop to sow. The seed springs up so readily, and the blossoms open so soon with such a brave show, especially at first. But when the time of flowers has passed, what as to the fruit?”

THE CHALLENGE:  A new year is upon us.  What do you intend to achieve?  Be a season ticket holder to the game of life.  This game is measured in years with no offseason and the stakes are much higher than a measly sporting event.  Remember, opposition will be knocking at your door.  Like it or not, you will make contact with the turf.  It is not enough to simply dream a goal, hope a goal, or even write down a goal.  You must internalize it.  It must excite you, you must dream about it, you must long for it… that is of course if you want to survive the ground.

Illustration by Ashley Goodall

Three Halloween Observations

(1) The rich know how to give.
(2) Opportunities to teach children are abundant.
(3) It’s a great chance to get to know your neighbors.

I will not write about these lessons independently but will share a quick (mostly incoherent) snapshot that hopefully captures the essence of each lesson.

“Let’s go to the rich neighborhood” we used to say as trick-or-treaters.  Not a Halloween went by without some discussion of potentially getting a full sized Snickers bar.  We never made it to “those” neighborhoods.  In fact, no matter where we went there were punk kids stealing bags of hard-earned candy.  (Ironically, I doubt those thieves will ever be in a position to hand out the aforementioned Snickers bars.)

My children love sweets just like anyone else, but they are also no strangers to moderation and healthy food choices.  For this reason, they have been content over the years to just fill up their Halloween buckets and call it a night.  This year they even seemed a bit uninterested, skipping houses that were decorated and had porch lights on.  I was shocked.  How could this be?!?!  “Kid’s we’re going to the rich neighborhood.  Tonight you are going to learn how to hustle!”


We jumped in the car, drove off the military base and down the road a couple of miles.  I explained that “when dad was a youngster” we used to run door to door filling up pillowcases full of candy.  I concluded my unsolicited history lesson and parked the car. We started to pound the pavement, albeit slow at first.  It took the kids an hour to really find their groove.

How rich was the neighborhood you ask?  Depends on your definition of “rich”.  Very small homes were selling for 1.3 million.  Every yard was perfectly manicured.  Most driveways were adorned with luxury vehicles and many families were driving door to door in golf carts.  One family was even driving through the streets giving out candy.  We ended up with 20 “full sized” treats between 3 kids.  (Score!)

There are undoubtedly snobs in this world who happen to be rich and therefore give the wealthy a bad name.  But, my experience last night was remarkable.  There was not a single home in which we were not greeted with exceptional warmth and kindness.  Almost every homeowner interacted with the kids commenting and inquiring about their costumes.  I asked some of the homeowners about a piece of art that I saw hanging up on the wall and they invited me in without hesitation.  There were home builders, artisans, orthodontists, and retirees.  Roughly 50% of the homes held out a bowl of candy and told the kids to “take what you want” and/or “take some more.”  It is evident that the financially independent have become so for a reason.  Most have worked very hard to get where they are, they have learned gratitude and are quick to give back and share, whether it be advice, friendship, material goods or services.

I found plenty of opportunities to teach the kids.  From safety, to hard work, to manners.  My boy is still a bit too young to use a filter and is often brutally honest (as a child should be).  At one home he told an older gentleman that he didn’t like trail mix.  The man’s feelings were hurt, based on the words he murmured under his breath.  I noted the address and will have my son mail him a handwritten apology letter.  My parents and grandparents never tolerated a lack of manners and that has trickled down to their posterity.

THE CHALLENGE:  First, if you think the wealthy segment of the population is a bunch of detestable shmucks, STOP!  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Isolated incidents do not represent the masses.

Second, teach the rising generation.  They need to learn social skills.  They need to learn principles of safety.  They need to have fun, create good memories and spend time with mom and dad.  They need to learn how to work hard.  Halloween is a perfect opportunity for all of these.  Last night was not at all about the candy, it was about the children.  It was about the education.

Photo by Philip Hay



Fix Your Cheese

This headline is alarming in so many ways.  Prosperity can turn us into real meatheads!  (excuse the pun)


So here’s the deal, Google’s cheese is on the bottom of the cheeseburger.  (C’mon Google…even Microsoft got this right, duh!)

For some things in life order matters – very much so.  There are times to build a proper foundation.  There are times to get out a yardstick and level.  On occasion, your project is so important that you will scrap the entire thing several times along the way before getting it right.  Other times, the order is worthless.  For example, it doesn’t matter if I put my left sneaker on before my right.

VERY LOW on the totem pole of consequence is the order in which I place my cheese.  The burger is no less edible and it all ends up in the same place.  As you strive to achieve your goals, be careful to pick your battles.  Don’t confuse motion with productivity.  Get away from the “cheese dilemmas” and worry about making tasty burgers.

THE CHALLENGE:  It helps to view excellence as a subtraction exercise more than an addition exercise.  Identify the “not so important” things standing in the way of your real burger.  Subtract this from your process and move closer to realizing what you truly intend to accomplish.


Police Each Other, Be a Dan

A bit misguided in my youth, a friend and I fought boredom one night by swapping around the neighbor’s trash cans.  Dan, my neighbor from across the street was a prison security guard.  He had no reservations seizing us with a tongue made of razor blades!  I’m grateful he was there to correct me!

Fast forward…

I don’t recall much about my 5th-grade experience.  After all, that was back in 1989.  My strongest memory is of twin boys completely disobeying the teacher.  They walked to the front of the class at will, threw chalk, knocked down the erasers, fired spitballs and cut the line.  They had no boundaries.  They were the most popular kids in school.  I saw they experienced a level of freedom that I longed for.  I was painfully shy.  I had no popularity to speak of.  I strongly considered following their lead.  Something inside me told me not to.  I listened.

Fast forward…

The twins continued down their path of rebellion.  Just four years later one of them decided to continually push me from behind for nearly a half mile on the walk home from school.  When I finally decided to stand up for myself he punched me in the face splitting my tooth in half (all for no rhyme or reason).  To this day, I am unable to floss without discomfort.

Fast forward…

In high school, the twins persuaded me to make a choice that was not congruent with my beliefs.  Nothing sinister or cruel, but enough to lead me astray.  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  It came at a time that I should have been forward thinking in all matters pertaining to my education and future career.  I often wonder how my life would have been different if I hadn’t listened, or if there was a Dan available to tell me to stay true to my beliefs.

While the twins and I don’t keep in touch, I don’t have hard feelings towards them either.  I’d be happy to spend time with them and catch up on the years that have expired since our interaction.  Still, I didn’t have to lose a tooth.  Plenty of cars drove by before I got sucker punched.  Plenty of school kids were watching the entire event transpire. No one stepped up or stepped in. Where were the “Dans” at?

Fast forward…

Today I parked my car at the beach, which happened to be on a military base.  A pickup truck pulled into the parking lot and the driver gave me a dirty look as he passed by me.  I’m not one for confrontation but I could tell the driver thought he was special and probably needed to get knocked down a peg or two.  He confirmed my suspicion when he got out of his truck and started to urinate in the parking lot.

I approached him and rather forcefully censured his misfit behavior, particularly for missing the urinal positioned just 30 yards away and for ignoring the fact that women and children were in the area. Despite his simple reply of, “Roger that” – I could feel his ego peel back to the nub like a filleted fish.


Nobody is more comfortable peeing in a bush than a Marine.  That’s not the real issue here.  The real issue is the young man’s lack of respect for social etiquette.  Military members are expected to act with integrity on and off duty.  He clearly was not.  The real issue here is the PATH that he is going down.  If he can issue a dirty look and urinate in a public setting, what is he willing to do when the sun goes down, when the door is locked, and when nobody is watching?  That’s not the kind of guy I want around my daughters.  It’s not the kind of guy that should leave the bar with keys in his hand.

THE CHALLENGE:  One great lesson the military has taught me is to “police each other.”  What would the world look like if there were enough REAL men and women willing to STAND UP and SPEAK UP when they see something wrong in the world?  Try it.  You may have to fillet some feelings, this in turn might get you punched in the face, stabbed, or shot.  Who cares!?  You will feel good inside.  Most important, you might just make an impact on someone going down the wrong path, someone who is willing to listen, someone who might blog about you 30 years down the road.  Have the courage to BE A DAN!

Photo by Kathy