Monday, October 23, 2017

You'd be Angry Too If Your Name Was Irma

When the weather guessers began predicting that Hurricane Irma would impact the entire state of Florida, we took note. I was most concerned for our friends and acquaintances who live in the Florida Keys. On Monday, September 4th, my manager inquired on my family's plan for Irma storm evacuation. I responded that we would make a decision on evacuation on Thursday as the spaghetti model was at the time inconclusive. In fact it looked like a plate of spaghetti from Carraba's Italian Grill had be dumped on a map of the continental United States, but someone had somehow managed to salvage the meatballs. With the weather guessers continuing to say that even if Saint Petersburg, the Sunshine City, did not take a direct hit, we could see wind gusts over 100 mph, I took them serious.

I remembered when we bought our house the house flipper had installed the bolts and wingnuts it the exterior window frames and cut plywood for each window. I also recalled that he had not labelled them other than the guest bathroom window which is the smallest window in the house and quite obvious which board fits it. We contacted our friends that we had originally planned to hang out with at Disney on Saturday and cancelled. I figured Irma wanted to visit the Happiest Place on Earth worse that we did. On Wednesday afternoon after work, I elected to dig all those sheets of plywood out and begin the process of elimination of identifying which sheet was drilled and cut for each of the remaining dozen windows. I knew this would be time consuming, so I thought the more time I gave myself the better off we would be. I figured we would need to have the windows boarded up regardless of our evacuation decision. I went for the obvious win first by boarding up the guest bathroom window. and what do you know, it was labelled correctly and fit. I then spent the remaining four hours of sunlight figuring out the four other windows on that side of the house and labelling them accordingly. As I was proceeding with the task at work, I could not help but notice the looks I was receiving from passers by and some neighbors - glares of disdain as if I had forgotten my pants or was wearing a tinfoil hat.

On Thursday, the weather guessers had adjusted their models and were now honing their focus in on the eastern seaboard of the Sunshine state. I announced that we would not be evacuating since the storm's projected path would be 100 miles to our east, but that we would continue with our storm preparations. Thursday, I resumed my game of Which-Window-Does-This-Piece-Of-Plywood-Fit. As I was now working on windows adjacent to the street next to our house, the glares of disdain intensified. I ignored them and continued my work until all of the windows were boarded up with the exception of the front porch window. If we were staying, I wanted to be able to see out of at least one window. I picked up a case of water and began packing the freezer as full of bags of water and jugs of water as possible so that they would freeze and provide a solid blanket of ice around all the food in the freezer.

 On Friday, the weather guessers had once again readjusted the projected storm path and were now predicting it would pass between St. Petersburg and Tampa. They were also projecting it would continue due north and their map showed the entire state of Georgia and parts of Alabama in warning areas. We began to hear reports of people evacuating and the highways being jammed. A couple co-workers had spent 4 hours to go 4 miles and had run out of gas and the gas stations were all out of gas. We then began to here reports that there were cars littering the sides of I-75 to our north that had also ran out of gas. We decided that at this point the window of opportunity for evacuation had closed. I dug out emergency candles, coolers, checked flashlight batteries, and picked up an extra bag of charcoal for the grill. We received that all the area gas stations were out of gas and all of the grocery stores and big boxes were sold out of water.

 On Saturday morning, I loaded the coolers into White Lightning, my 1970 Chevrolet pickup and ran up to the corner 7-11 store. I bought 6 bags of ice and noted their gas pumps had bags over them and that their shelves were void of bottled water, Cokes, and bread. We took down the American Flag and carried in all of the flowers and plants from the front porch. I tied the front porch glider swing to a corner post with a ratcheting strap and secured the cover on the BBQ grill out back with bungee cords. Saturday evening we went out for dinner and the normally crowded restaurant was half empty. The wait staff announced that they were serving an abbreviated menu. We understood as many had evacuated leaving the restaurant with a limited staff. Sunday we filled the bathtub up with water. We piled blankets in the hallway and created sleeping pallets. We were watched the storm track on the Weather Channel and watched their reports of the storm's damage to the Florida Keys. A friend of ours was posting Facebook live video feeds from his home in the Keys and it looked devastating. The reports were predicting the storm to reach us between 8:30pm and 9pm. At 7pm the power went out. We lit the emergency candles, donned our headlamps and headed to the hallway. I began reading a book by the infamous Jack Riepe while we waited. Around 8:30pm the winds picked up and the noise level increased. The intensity of the wind noise and the noise of things hitting the sides of the house and the boarded windows continued.

Around 3:30AM on Sunday, I heard a noise which I was almost certain was a tree falling near our house. I donned a raincoat and ventured just out the back door and checked the back yard and side yard. All seemed well. There were a lot of limbs down but nothing significant. I returned inside the house and stepped out on the front porch and surveyed the front yard again finding no significant damage. I stepped off the front porch to check the side yard by the street and to my dismay found a tree had split and half of it lying across the hood of my truck. I ran out to survey the damage and was thrilled to discover all of the truck's windows were still intact. A city policeman in an unmarked car was coming down the street inspecting power lines and homes with a searchlight. He stopped and asked if everyone was OK. I told him we were fine, and thanked him for his service. He continued down the street driving over the curb on the neighbor's side of the street to maneuver around our downed tree. I retreated to the house to get out of the wind and rain.

By 8:30AM on Monday, we had clearing skies and reduced wind. I grabbed my sawzall and a couple batteries and began cutting limbs off my truck. After half an hour or so, I had the limbs cut away from the truck and could find no damage. The remainder of the tree was still lying across the street blocking traffic. I grabbed a cold drink and began taking down some of the plywood over the windows so we could get some air moving through the house. I heard a noise and looked up to see a random man getting out of a pickup that had parked just short of the downed tree. As I rounded the house I saw him retrieve a chainsaw from the bed of his truck. He gave the saw a tug, it fired on first pull, and he began cutting up the fallen tree. I grabbed a set of gloves and began pulling brush out of the street and piling it along the curb. After a few minutes, he shut the saw down. He told me he had been sitting at home bored with no electric and decided the quicker the streets were clear, the sooner the electric company workers could restore power. So he was just driving down the street, stopping at every fallen tree and cutting it up to clear the street. I thanked him for the help, and he headed off for the next one.

One of Allison's co-workers who lives in downtown St. Pete called to check on us. They had not lost power. When they learned of our situation, they began searching for ice. Finding all of the convenient stores still closed and all the grocery stores out of ice, they went to a neighborhood bar with a cooler and the owner sent us a huge amount of ice. We had our freezer packed solid and were not opening it. All of the refrigerator contents had been moved to coolers. So, we drained the melted ice in our coolers and repacked with the fresh ice. They invited us and our two dogs to their home to sit in the AC for a while which we gladly accepted.

Tuesday came and went with no word on power being restored. A friend called and loaned us a generator, so we were able to provide power to the refrigerator/freezer, run some fans,and have some lights. But we didn't have enough capacity to run the AC.

Wednesday we were both expected back at work. I tried working remote by going to a local Starbucks which was open and had power but no internet. I gave up and drove into Tampa. Another of my wife's co-workers invited us and our dogs to their house for dinner and to spend the night. I returned home to protect our belongings and keep the generator running.

Thursday after work, friends arrived with a portable AC unit. We plugged it into the generator and closed the windows for our master bedroom and it began cooling things down quickly. About an hour with the portable AC unit running, I heard the sounds of large trucks. I walked out to see four bucket trucks taking positions along the power lines on our street. All of their vehicles had Missouri license plates. I approached one of the supervisors and shook his hand and thanked them for coming down to help us recover. A few minutes later, they threw a disconnect on the pole and restored the power in our neighborhood. Neighbors came running out of their houses dancing and shouting. Strangers were hugging each other and hugging utility workers and tears flowed.

We were extremely fortunate to only have a tree that fell across the street. A couple weeks later, we had a tree company take the remainder of the tree down. We were fortunate to have power restored after 5 days. And we were very grateful. We learned a lot during the storm and recovery. One of the greatest things we learned was what a great group of friends and neighbors we have. We were blessed to have people checking on us, inviting us to their homes, finding ice for us, loaning us generators and portable AC units, and cutting trees out of the street for us.

We continue to pray for those in the Keys and in Puerto Rico that suffered devastating damage during Irma. And pray their lives are restored.

Blessings
-Allen

Friday, October 20, 2017

Guest Post: Andi Cumbo-Floyd - The Teeter-Totter of Discipline and Grace



Dear Beautiful People, 

For the first time in several months, I achieved my goal of writing 1,000 words a day on my work-in-progress this week.  Most mornings, I didn't want to do it. I had other things to do - things that pay me money and aren't as hard - but I did it.  Each time, it took me less than 30 minutes - I draft very quickly because I've practiced for years, but my revision process is quite slow - and when I was done, I felt great because I wasn't going to be carrying the burden of disappointment and guilt I feel when I don't write. 

For me, writing is a calling, a vocation, my life's work, if you can bear that level of grandioseness and not think it some sort of April Fool's Day joke.( I assure you, I'm serious.) So when I'm not using it, I feel a bit like that servant from the parable who buries the money in the dirt.  I don't like that feeling. 
Over many years of practice, after reading many books on writing, through listening to many friends who are further down the path of words than I am, I have learned that a real key to writing is discipline, a regimented putting-of-the-butt-in-the-chair.  I don't believe in inspiration. I believe in hard work, in showing up, in facing the page as often as possible to get the writing done. 

But I also believe in grace.  I believe that it's far more detrimental to my mental health if I walk around on the days I don't write feeling shameful about what I haven't done. I know that shame is too heavy a weight to bear when I need lightness to create.  I am certain that no good - and almost no writing - comes from feeling weighed down by what didn't happen. 

So here's how I keep the teeter-tooter of discipline and grace for myself. (By the way, I am coming to think of balance as shifty, not something you pin down forever like a beautiful butterfly, but something we dance through during the various days and periods of our life.  Hence, the teeter-totter metaphor.)
·         I have a regular goal for writing.  For me, that's 1,000 words a day five days a week.  That goal is achievable for me on a daily basis.
·         I have a regular writing time for each of those five days. Right now, that time is 6am because I can wake at 5, do a little reading, write, check email, and then feed the farm animals.  That time will shift as the sunrise moves earlier this summer.
·         I give myself time off. I don't write on weekends. That's my farm time, my time with Philip, my time to binge-watch Firefly. My time with family and friends.  If I'm making space for things I love sometimes, I don't tend to skimp on writing, which I don't always love, the other times.
·         I look ahead to how I will make this time given what's happening in the rest of my life. If I know I'm traveling - as I as this week - I evaluate whether or not I'll still be able to write that 1,000 words. If I don't see it as possible, I scratch that day off my calendar.  But just that day. By looking ahead at what might make my goals hard to achieve, I give myself the space to not hit the goal that day without derailing myself with guilt for many days.
·         When I miss a writing day unexpectedly, I look at why that happened as soon and as honestly as possible. Sometimes, I just don't get it done, and so when that happens, I take stock right away. Did an emergency arise? Was I sick? Or did I make choices that got in the way? If this was about choice, why did I make that choice? Am I okay with that choice? And if not, what will I do to make better choices to allow for my writing next time?  I find that 90% of my missed writing days were my choice, and most of those choices I would like to not make again.  So I adjust my schedule or my practices - like this week, I committed to not looking online until my 1,000 words were done.  It worked well for me.
For you right now, 5 days a week may not be possible; 1,000 words may be too little or too much.  Mornings may not work. You have to find what works for you.  

I believe you have to make a goal and set a schedule that work for you, and then do all you can to keep to it. And I believe this is possible for everyone most of the time.  You may be tempted to say that because you work a lot of hours you can't set a goal or schedule, or because you have young children you can't keep a schedule, or because you have a chronic illness you can't make a goal or keep a schedule, or because your second toe is longer than your big toe schedules don't work for you.  I get it. Life is hard for all of us a lot of the time and in a lot of ways.
Here's the thing though - people have written books while raising young children. People have written books while working to make partner at a law firm and working 18-hour days.  People have written books while battling cancer for their lives.  The way they do that may not be as fast as I do in my childfree, write-for-a-living daily life (which has it's own griefs and challenges, I assure you), but they do it.  And they do it by committing, by practicing, by prioritizing, and by giving themselves the grace to say, "Today was not the day, but I'll try again tomorrow."

So here's my NO FOOLIN' challenge for you.  
·         Make a weekly writing goal. 
·         Set a weekly schedule for achieving that goal. 
·         Celebrate when you meet your schedule. 
·         Evaluate when you don't and let the "didn't" go. 
·         Try again the next day.
What do you say?  Are you in?

Much love,
Andi

  
Excerpted from Love Letters To Writers: Encouragement, Accountability, and Truth-Telling by Andi Cumbo-Floyd – Forthcoming on November 14, 2017. 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer, who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, 3 rabbits, and 37 chickens. You can read more of her words on writing at andilit.com.


Additional Sites
www.godswhisperfarm.com 
www.ourfolkstales.com

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Book Giveaway!!!


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Awakened by Allen Madding

Awakened

by Allen Madding

Giveaway ends September 22, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway

Monday, August 28, 2017

Pause

Thursday night we had a planned maintenance at work which I was asked to be apart, so the workday went from 7AM until 1:30AM. Fortunately, I got Friday comped to recoup. Do I awoke Friday with a list of things I wanted to accomplish personally. Top of the list was getting some Advance Reader Copies (ARC) of Awakened mailed out to members of the launch team. I jumped in White Lighting (my 1970 C20 pickup) and rode over to Walgreens to pickup some padded envelopes as I had a depleted inventory. Much to my chagrin when i crawled back in the truck to head home with the envelopes, the starter refused to cooperate. It wouldn't even click.



I called State Farm Roadside Assistance and found a place in the shade beside the building to wait. before they arrived, a landscaper noticed the hood up and asked me if I needed a jump. He hooked up a jump box and said it showed the battery fully charged. White Lightning refused to budge despite the jump. I thanked him for his assistance and called State Farm Roadside Assistance back and advised a jump was no longer needed, but a tow truck.

I retreated to the shade of the side of the building and began to wait for the estimated 1 hour arrival. At first, I wanted to fuss about the list of things I wanted to accomplish and my predicament that had me stuck standing on a concrete sidewalk in the sweltering Florida heat. I quietly became a student of human nature or as my Granddad would have called it, I began people watching.

From my vantage of the corner of the building, I had a clear view of 54th Avenue and MLK Street as well as the main parking lot in front of Walgreens and their adjoining liquor store as well as the optometrist office to the back of the side parking lot. At 10:30am on a Friday, this parking lot was a hotbed of activity. A man passed by smelling of dried urine pushing a shopping cart full of empty cans and other collected items. Another man pulled up in a pickup and hurried inside only to return shortly and hurry back to his pickup for a few minutes and then back in the drug store. A few minutes later he returned carrying a small shopping bag and a large bag of diapers. A woman suddenly appeared smoking a cigarette nervously pacing back and forth. After six or seven trips past me she disappeared from my sight reappearing moments later on the other side of the street.

As I continued to wait for the tow truck, I began to hear rolls of thunder. I looked to the north and could see ominous black clouds, but the heat and humidity dissuaded from considering sitting in the truck.  When the rain began, I huddled closer to the building to take as much advantage of the narrow overhang as possible. A woman pulled up in a small SUV and made her way slowly into the drug store. While she was inside the rain increased in intensity. After a while, she returned from the store to her SUV with a small shopping bag in hand. She opened the door and disappeared from my sight. She was not seated in the vehicle but the driver's door was standing wide open in a Florida downpour. I could not help but wonder what on earth the was doing. After ten minutes or so, she popped up and headed back into the drug store with the shopping bag. After another ten minutes or so, she reappeared and returned to the SUV. Once again she disappeared from my line of sight with the driver's door open in the steady downfall of rain. Finally, she crawled into the driver's seat, closed the door, started the vehicle, and slowly drove away.

The rain began to let up and the sun began to break through. Within moments it was a light drizzle and then it quit all together. As the heat and humidity began to increase, the tow truck appeared.

Initially, I wanted to feel sorry for myself sitting three hours stranded outside Walgreens. But it gave me a chance to pause from my list of chores and the hectic busyness of my week and take a slow look around me. These are my neighbors. This is my community. These are the people I am called to love. It was a good reminder.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Inferno Films Producing New Documentary Entitled Community First, A Home for the Homeless

Image may contain: text

For those who haven't heard, one of the biggest things I am excited about in the work to end homelessness in our country is a model community - Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village in Austin, Texas which is a complete paradigm shift. Mobile Loaves and Fishes is an organization that has been serving the homeless community in the Austin are for years with an eye to restoring dignity. The Community First! Village utilizes RVs and Tiny Homes in a 27-acre master planned development in East Austin providing affordable, permanent housing for the disabled and chronically homeless in Central Texas.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that Award-winning director and filmmaker Layton Blaylock and the team at Inferno Films are producing a documentary entitled, Community First: A Home for the Homeless. The film follows the progress of Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village in Austin. Production began in March 2017 and will continue through the remainder of the year. A Kickstarter to drive monetary support for the documentary project launches on Wednesday, August 23rd.

Here is a teaser for the documentary - Teaser (video)

Formed in 1999, Inferno films is headed by Director/DP Layton Blaylock and Executive Producers Quincy Lowman and Jeff Hastings. They have produced a wide variety of award-winning broadcast projects and television commercials. Their 2006 feature length documentary, Art From the Streets, has garnered several awards and played at over 30 film festivals around the world.

Community First! Village is a 27-acre master planned development in East Austin that provides affordable, permanent housing for the disabled and chronically homeless in Central Texas. Home to over 200 people including its formerly homeless residents, work campers, on-site missioners, and staff, the project aims to “heal the lives of the homeless through the transformative power of community,” says Blaylock.  The documentary follows this unique residential program as it provides a model of addressing homelessness by providing homes as well as personal care, community involvement,  an opportunity to earn a dignified income, and expression in the creative arts. Special events regularly occur on-site, such as family-friendly movie nights, art shows, tours, and volunteer opportunities that are open to anyone, allowing connections to develop between those who live inside and outside of the Village.

For more information on the documentary, and a link to the Kickstarter, visit www.communityfirstthemovie.com or facebook.com/communityfirstmovie. For more information on Inferno Films, visit www.infernofilms.com. To learn more about Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village, visit http://mlf.org/community-first/.



Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Live, Laugh, Love, Love to Laugh

Image Source: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/explore/laughter-quotes/


From time to time friends will comment on my ability to bring laughter to any occasion. I freely admit that I love to laugh and firmly believe if you cannot laugh, you cannot enjoy life. I cannot take credit for my sense of humor. It is directly inherited. One of the funniest men in my life growing up was my Grandpa Madding. He was always up to something and all ways had a joke to tell.

As a small kid, I loved watching HeeHaw with Grandpa. Especially when they sang "Where, Where are you tonight? Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found true love. You met another and PFFFTT you were gone!" My Mom hated when I sang that and threatened to whip me. Grandpa thought it was hilarious.





 Our family loved to hunt and fish. My Dad had taken me and my brother hunting with him several time. He carried his shotgun, and we tagged along with our Daisy BB guns. He had taught us gun safety and things to be aware of in the woods. So when Grandpa came to town one Fall, we went into the woods hunting. When we came upon an electric fence, I froze in place. Grandpa took a look at it and declared it wasn't an electric fence. I pointed out the insulators on the post and argued the point. He scoffed, "Here I'll show you it isn't electric," he said. Unbeknownst to me, he had lightly grabbed a hold of the back of my belt. With the other hand, he grabbed the electric fence. I got a hefty jolt of electric fence charger while he laughed.

Many years later after I had moved into my first house, Grandpa Madding, Grandpa Jackson, and my Dad decided to tune up a push mower that Dad was going to give me to maintain my yard. both Granddads began to argue why it wouldn't start. Grandpa Madding suggested pulling the spark plug, laying it across the motor, and pulling the starter rope to see if the plug was firing. Grandpa Jackson quickly grabbed a ratchet and a socket and pulled the plug, carefully laid it so the plug was contacting metal to make a good ground and reached up to pull the rope. Unbeknownst to him, you guessed it, Grandpa Madding grabbed the back of his belt with one hand and the spark plug wire with the other just as Grandpa Jackson pulled the starter rope. He jumped and shouted and shook his head when he got the shock from the coil on the mower while Grandpa Madding laughed.

"I guess the plug and ignition module is good, huh Jack?" He laughed.

Before my daughter was born, my wife and I lived on 11 acres and had a small heard of goats to help with the mowing. He had came through an visited and headed out on an Airstream Caravan. One night all of the Airstreamers would gather and have a pot luck dinner. This one evening at potluck a lady stood at the microphone and introduced herself, named off all of her kids, grand kids, and great grand kids. When Grandpa Madding was introduced, not to be out done, he named his son, my brother and I as his two grandkids, and then said, "and I have a granddog Lugnut, and four grandgoats, Buckwheat, Barney, Betsy, and Coco."

Over the years growing up, I worked along side of him building additions on family houses, roofing houses, washing cars, etc. I learned a work ethic from him, and I learned that no matter how miserable the conditions hot or cold, not matter how hard the work, a little sense of humor and a good laugh makes the job a lot more enjoyable. And I have tried to carry both of those lessons with me.

These days I will crack a joke while working and will think how much it sounds like something he would say. I encourage you to laugh a little. It will do a lot for your overall disposition.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Little Johnny and Adventures on the Flint River

The Flint River (image source: wikimedia.org)


As a boy growing up in rural South Georgia, Mitchell County to be exact, I was introduced to fishing on the mighty Flint River. My Dad bought a 14 foot aluminum Jon boat and powered it with a 9 1/2 horse Johnson outboard that we called Little Johnny that he had gotten when my Granddad sold his Salt Water boat. On occasion, he would let me set at the back of the boat and pilot the boat. I remember the initial awe and fear I felt as I struggled to learn to turn the motor the opposite direction that I wanted the boat to head and becoming familiar with the less than raw power available at the twist of my wrist.

image source: smalloutboards.com


The Flint River was not a body of water to be taken lightly. I had sandbars, snags, and rocks to navigate past and spring holes that were hundreds of feet deep. It was a river to be respected and an appropriate amount of fear probably would be advised as well. Anytime Dad was piloting the boat on the Flint, I was instructed to sit to one side, so he could see the water ahead and avoid the rocks and snags that stuck up depending on the levels of the water. Anytime I piloted the boat, he sat up front calling out the dangers and giving directions on where to head for safe passage.

Amazingly, when my brother got his drivers license, my Dad allowed the two of us to take the boat fishing during the week after school while he was out of town on work. To this day, I am amazed that he allowed us to take his boat out. I am not sure if he suffered a head injury at work or just decided that he had taught us everything we needed to know, and it was time to let us spread our wings a bit.

So one gorgeous Spring day, we got home from school, ignored our homework assignments, hooked to boat up to my brother's car and headed for the Flint. We launched the boat and headed off down river as we had done a hundred times prior. I honestly don't remember if we caught anything that day or not. But I do vividly remember this - about an hour before dark, we decided it was time to head home. My brother tugged on Little Johnny's rope and the motor fired to life. We set a course upstream for the boat ramp. I quickly noticed something out of the ordinary. The river level had risen a good bit since we had launched. I recognized that to mean that the Georgia Power Dam flood gates north of us had been opened.

Georgia Power Dam on the Flint River (image source: cyclethunder.wormley.org)

With the rising level of water, there were less rocks and snags visible above the top of the water. My brother began to navigate from memory of where the rocks and snags were since they were not all completely visible. This instantly struck a bit of fear in my heart, because I knew if he missed remembering one rock that might now be just below the surface of the water, it could damage the boat or the outboard, and even worse throw us out of the boat or overturn us. I zipped up the zipper on the front of my life jacket and quietly checked to make sure he had his one and zipped.

It was then I noticed the second problem at hand. With the rising level of water, the current of the river had magnified. I could hear Little Johnny's hum and could tell my brother had the throttle twisted wide open. Looking out the front of the boat, I couldn't tell we were moving. I froze for a moment in fear as I thought about the possibility that the rising Flint River's current could by stronger than Little Johnny's 9 1/2 horsepower could overcome. I quickly quit watching for snags and rocks and began watching the shoreline.

My brother noted the change in my behavior and asked, "What are you looking at on the bank?"

I sheepishly admitted to my fear. "I'm looking at trees to see if we are actually moving forward!"

He laughed and then asked, "Well are we?"

I sat for a few minutes staring at a single unique looking tree. Slowly I could see it beginning to move to the South of us. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

"Yes, barely but we are," I replied. "I hope we have enough gas to make it to the boat ramp."

He quickly looked down at the 5 gallon red fuel can that supplied Little Johnny the two-cycle gas and oil mixture.

"Three quarters of a tank," he called out.

We slowly made our way up river and finally arrived at the boat ramp. Our slow progress had put us behind schedule, and it was now dark. He quickly backed the boat trailer down the ramp, and we loaded the boat.

"That was some scary stuff there for a bit," I admitted after we were in the car and headed home. "I didn't think we were gonna make it up river."

I think back on that episode of my childhood several times as I get older. When I am working on a project or working on personal growth and begin to become frustrated with the progress, I remember that day on the waters of the mighty Flint River and looking to the shoreline for something to provide me proof that we are moving in the right direction despite the lack of speed. That experience has always helped me to remember to not focus so intently on the final destination but to look for progress. If I can see progress being made, I can then motivate myself to keep going.

How about you? Are you looking for progress - positive movement towards your goals? Or are you frozen staring at the final destination and overcome with defeat because of how far away it seems? Focus on signs of positive movement and keep on pressing forward.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Review: Wonder by R. J. Palacio


Auggie Pullman was born with several "small anomalies". In fact his face was so disfigured from birth and numerous surgeries, his parents elected to homeschool him that is until 5th grade. Auggie is about to face his greatest fear, being the new kid at Beecher Prep. And everyone knows middle school kids are not the kindest and most considerate. Inside Auggie is just an  ordinary kid with ordinary dreams and aspirations, but he has an extraordinary face. He knows it will be a struggle to convince his classmates that he doesn't have cooties and that his disfigured face isn't contagious. But how will he do it? How can he convince his classmates that they can be brave enough to go against the popular culture of making fun of him and actually befriend him? There is only one way - to bravely show them what he is like on the inside.

Wonder is well written, has wonderfully and accurately created characters. I highly recommend it to parents and children of all ages. There are a host of great lessons to be learned from this entertaining read.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Dining Reviews Are Moving



I'm a very excited to announce a new venture with a very good friend and talented chef, Leslie Barton. We have launched a new website SlapYourGrandma.com. This website will provide restaurant and recipes so good, you'll want to, well, slap your grandma.

All dining reviews going forward will be found on this new website. I encourage you to bookmark the page and join us on this new adventure.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Great American Scream Machine - a Lesson in Overcoming Fear

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I was probably around 10 years old when my family made its first trip to Six Flags Over Atlanta. The trip is a fond memory including bumper cars, log flume water rides, the Dahlonega Mine Train - which at that time was a wooden roller coaster that smelled of creosote and had an interactive animated "Buford the Buzzard" tossing insults at the waiting crowd in the queue line.

The event of the day the left an indelible mark in my memory from 43 years ago, was the Great American Scream Machine - a wooden roller coaster that had opened that year with a hill that was 105 feet tall and a top speed of 57 miles an hour. The restraints for the coaster consisted of a lap bar. Current day it utilizes a seat belt and a lap bar, but for the life of me I only remember the lap bar on my first ride.

As a 10 year old kid, I had seen the advertisements for the Scream Machine and had my hesitations. It was a mammoth site painted in gleaming white adorned with red, white, and blue banners.  Somehow my Dad performed a skillful job of talking me into it over the course of the day. As we stood in the queue line, I glanced up at the huge 105 feet tall hill and began to rethink my decision.

"I think I have changed my mind", I told my Dad.

He chuckled, "Too late now", he said pointing to the sea of people in line behind us.

I began to try to muster up all of the courage I could possibly find in my 10 year old being. I loved the Dahlonega Mine Train, so I told myself that maybe after the first hill it would be about the same. But somehow deep down, I knew that even if it was, it would be a heck of a lot faster. After several minutes, we took our seats about halfway back in the roller coaster. The lap bar came down about three inches away from actually touching my thighs. I took hold of it and decided holding on would probably be in my best interest for self preservation. Minutes went by as we set motionless in the roller coaster anticipating what was about to happen. Finally the high school kid at the console with all the cool lights and buttons pressed a button and our car began to roll out of the station and around a curve in the track providing a clear view of the huge hill of wood and track that stood before us like a mountain.

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The car began to climb the hill with an all to familiar click-click-click sound. I could feel all of the courage I had mustered up in the queue line quickly draining out of my body, seeping into the soles of my shoes, and out the bottom of the car. As riders in front of me held up their hands to show the absence of fear, I increased by grip on the lap bar sitting several inches above my lap. After what seemed like hours, we reached the top of the huge hill. I looked off to the sides and marveled at how small everything below us seemed. The first couple of rows of riders and cars began to disappear over the peak of the hill and the screaming began. Then after a few moments, we were rocketing down the other side. I felt weightless. I could feel my small 10 year old butt leaving the seat of the car and my thighs rose to make contact with the lap bar. I struggled with what little strength my little bony arms contained to hold on to the lap bar and tried unsuccessfully to leverage myself back down into my seat. Looking straight ahead all I could see were the cars of riders descending the hill in front of us and the bottom of the hill which seemed miles away. In my mind, I could begin to picture myself floating completely out of the car and tumbling down in front of the coaster. I flexed all of my non-existent 10 year old not-going-out-for-football muscles and continued trying to hold myself in the car while clenching the muscles in my abdomen and holding my breath. My Dad sat laughing in the seat next to me unaware of his youngest son's impending death. I began to pray confessing every misdeed I had ever committed or even thought of committing over the last 10 years promising to read my Bible and study every Sunday School lesson every week.

When we finally reached the bottom and began to climb the next hill that paled in comparison to the first, I felt my butt make contact with the seat, and I began breathing again.

"Dad, you better hold onto me", I screamed, "I almost fell out on that last hill."

He smiled and chuckled seemingly unconvinced that I had just had a close encounter with death. The next few hills seemed enjoyable compared to the introduction with the Grim Reaper I had just experienced on the downhill of a 105 feet plunge to almost certain death. I managed to continue to breathe through the remaining hills until the car came sliding into a sudden stop at the station.

I quickly gazed around me and then performed a self inventory - all fingers check, all toes check, two legs, two arms check, no detectable dampness in my underwear and no unusual smells. Yes! I had survived and would live to see another episode of Emergency!

As we walked away from the station, my legs felt wobbly and my head seemed to be spinning. I stopped,turned, and looked at that menacing towering track and was amazed that I had done it. I had rode the Great American Scream Machine and had lived to tell about it.

Years later, I returned to Six Flags as a Junior in High School. When we unloaded the van, I glanced up at that same towering track and thought, "I rode that as a little kid no big deal". I rode it again but this time with my hands up. Six Flags had added a new coaster called the MindBender an all steel roller coaster. While not as tall as the Scream Machine and slightly slower, the MindBender completed two barrel rolls mid-track. And to grab your attention, the designers made sure you could see the inversions sections of track from the parking lot. We rode everything in the park that day, and I had successfully steered clear of the MindBender. But just after dark, two girls in our group asked me if I had ridden it. When I said no, they responded, "We rode it before lunch. Come on, you gotta try this!" What was I going to do, chicken out in front of two high school girls?

When we boarded the cars it was dark, and the operators had tied glow sticks to the front of the first car. As we rolled out and came to speed, I could see maybe 10 feet of track in front of the glow stick so every twist and turn was a surprise. Before I knew it we were inverted twice and sliding back to a stop at the station. As I stepped out of the car and onto the platform I felt slightly dizzy and began laughing.

I would return to Six Flags several times while living in Georgia. I reached a point where I skipped all of the other rides and spent an entire Saturday going from one coaster to another until I had ridden all they had to offer and some more than once. I now go to Disney World on a regular basis and ride any and all coasters they offer.

What got me to a point where I was not scared to ride a new unfamiliar coaster? What was it that got me over the fear of roller coasters? It is simple. I conquered the fear by pushing through it when I was 10 years old and agreeing to get on the Great American Scream Machine against all of my better judgement and a little 10 year old voice screaming inside my head "NOOOOO". Is not that the way we overcome any fear? It's the fear of the unknown. Despite seeing all the commercials and the watching movie at the Chevy Show just hours before getting on it that was filmed from the front of the first car on the Great American Scream Machine, I had no idea what it was going to be like. So, I was scared silly. But once I rode it, once I overcame the initial fear, the second time as a Junior in High School was not so bad, because I knew what to expect. I remembered the sensation of weightlessness and the lap bar actually touched my lap. So having that fear conquered, moving onto the MindBender was not as overwhelming. And after riding the MindBender, I had no fear of riding the Georgia Scorcher, Batman, Acrophobia, the Ninja, the Georgia Cyclone, or Goliath.

When I returned with my daughter around age 10, she quickly decline every coaster in the park. I spent countless Saturdays for two season with season passes with her. Finally, I talked her into it. She agreed to ride the Great American Scream Machine. When we stepped out of the car onto the platform, her words were "I'm glad that's over with!" Did I talk her into it, because I wanted to make her do something she did not want to do? No! I did it, because I wanted her to face fear head on and discover what a fearless and courageous person she could be come by facing her fears. Face your fears and free yourself from them.