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The Fulfillment of Living in More than One World

As little Liam Left his One Dimensional World of the Womb

Last night we were a family in anticipation of the delivery of a new grand baby, and our daughter’s father, my wife’s ex-husband, came down from Wisconsin to await the arrival of the newborn with us. Most of our friends and acquaintances already know that he and I are friends and partners in music, so for him to stay at our home is absolutely normal. Her dad had scheduled about 10 days for the happy event to take place and then go back up North for work. Ten days however turned out not to be enough, so he was wondering whether to go back and risk the chance of missing the entire experience or staying longer. I told him to ask himself what would matter more to him 2 years from now. He stayed.

I am writing this story as our daughter is finally in the delivery room trying to make sense of contractions that seem to ravage her little body every couple of minutes. The nurse apparently told her to envision a cake with fifty burning candles and slowly blow out each and every one of them to avert the contraction pains. It’s a new world for me. In itself not that alarming or surprising, as I have wandered through many different worlds in my lifetime. And what I have found is that people who are only living in one world are mostly unhappy.

These days, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, we make important decisions on what we will pay attention to. I am not talking about the attention we pay to our work and our clients—the things that are vital to our organization’s success and our economic well-being. I am talking, instead, about what can be referred to as our inner life.   Our inner life expands or shrinks in direct proportion to what we focus on. It’s an existential choice; that is, we are responsible for how we spend our time. This is important because our inner life ultimately defines who we are as a person—independent of titles, job functions or which step we occupy on the corporate success ladder. Jobs can come and go, businesses can start and end, but who we become in the process is what lasts a lifetime.

It’s true that in our highly charged, digital existence, there is, realistically for most of us, only a small amount of time left for discretionary attention. And in this life crunch, the thing that often gets pushed aside is the fitness of our inner life—our family, our personal relationships, our health and our spirituality. It is these thoughts that go through my head at 2 am, while taking a break from that brutally beautiful process going on inside the delivery room; a process that procreates life on earth as the result of love between two young adults, who intentionally set out to build a family.

I don’t know how other people react to the experience of birth, but it inspires me to pay more attention to my inner life, as I suddenly realize that in recent years I have come dreadfully close to becoming what Peter Drucker called “a knowledge worker” who is severely at risk of living in a one dimensional world. I have always lived a multi dimensional life far beyond the virtual or actual walls of a work life. Now I realize that getting older is a bad excuse for moving to a one dimensional existence.

A total life really is one that includes work, friends, family, professional colleagues and affiliation groups; in short, a life that is rich, diversified and fulfilling. The secret to achieving this is by living in more than one world, enjoying a diversity of interests, activities, acquaintances and pursuits.   I am also realizing with great clarity that “charity begins at home.” Don’t get me wrong, being charitable is worthy but you have to balance what you give to others, whether in volunteering, mentoring, or spending hours answering strangers’ e-mail requests, with the actual time you spend with those closest to you. I realize that I need to make some adjustments to the time scale.

On another level I am also deeply aware of the emotional footprint I leave on relationships. A growing number of us is concerned about the carbon footprint we leave on our environment without much consideration for the other kind of footprint: the emotional one that we may unwittingly leave on our relationships when we show up stressed, harried and distracted—consumed by our work and the business. If this describes you, resolve to make some changes. It’s a question of managing your moods so that they don’t spill over from the office to the living room, or worse the bedroom.

Also I vow to try and not keep scores anymore. Attention on any given day is in limited supply. It takes more effort to hold a grudge, for a real or imaginary slight—to remember who did what, or who didn’t do what, or for what reason—than it does to blow it away. I will do my best to patch up what went wrong and if, despite a sincere effort, there is no improvement, I will push delete and purge all old stuff that is cluttering my life’s inbox. And while I’m at it, make room for new people too.

There is a new person in my life and as I welcome little Liam into this multi leveled diversified life, after 9 months in a one dimensional world, I hope he will pursue an enriching life in many worlds. I hope he will put his foot on the brakes at regular intervals, take stock of his life and where his life is taking him. Consider if a shift in priorities is necessary and which activities need to be abandoned or scaled back. And above all, I hope that as he looks into the future, he will consider those who share his present life, at whatever stage his life happens to be.

Chrysler’s turnaround guy Lee Iacocca said once: “No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?”

Women of Power

Women of Power

Women of Power

Women of Power is a subsidiary of LaVerne Mitchell Ministries, Inc and they are presenting It’s All About Purpose – a free empowerment seminar for women.

Guest speakers include Lawsikia J. Hodges, MaryAnn Robles, Cherry A. Shaw and Katrina Flannery.

The seminar will be held on March 26, brom 10:00 AM until 2:30 PM at Maxwel Hall on the corner of 6th and Alachua Street in Fernandina Beach, Florida.

Lawsikia J. Hodges is a Jacksonville native and the mother of two little girls. She is a Board Member of the Jacksonville Pace Center for Girls, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to providing at-risk girls and young women with an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. Ms. Hodges is a Board Advisor for the University of North Florida’s Pre-Law Program and a member of several bar associations, including the Florida Bar Association, the Jacksonville Bar Association, and the Perkins Bar Association.

Cherry A. Shaw specializes in environmental and land use matters and serves as counsel to the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board and the Jacksonville Historical Preservation Commission.

Ms. Shaw is admitted to practice in Florida and Wisconsin, as well as the United States Supreme Court, and the United States District Court for the Northern and Middle District of Florida. Ms. Shaw is also active in the legal community including memberships in the Florida Association of Women Lawyers, the Jacksonville Bar Association, the Environmental and Land Use Law and the City, County & Local Government Law Sections of the Florida Bar Association. In 2002, Ms. Shaw was appointed and continues to serve as a member of the Statewide Nominating Commission for Worker’s Compensation Judges. She was recently elected vice-chair in 2008. In addition, Ms. Shaw served the maximum six years as a member of the Florida Bar Civil Rules Procedures Committee. Most recently, she was appointed to the Florida Bar Code and Rules of Evidence Committee and inducted into the Chester Bedell Inns of Court.

Prior to becoming a lawyer, Ms. Shaw held a career in journalism, public radio and cable television. In her spare time, Ms. Shaw sings in the church choir at Faith Christian Center. Ms. Shaw’s other interests include music, travel, history and various outdoor activities.

For more information or to RSVP please contact Valerie Baker at (904) 635-8789.

Commit Yourself to the Time you have

Accepting Mortality

I have been sitting on this story for a while, mostly because I was still working through the ramifications and consequences of putting such a personal experience on paper. Would it change my life’s directions, my ambitions, my zest to be pro-active in the future? I can’t promise it is completely clear in my head right now, but I think that going forward is the only answer to growing older.

When the following message came into my email inbox from a Search Amelia video upload on youTube, I knew I could write about mortality.

This was the email:

VanceWine has made a comment on In Honor of Specialist Kelly Mixon.m4v:
wow.. so touching…. as if i was there.. Kelly lived with me here in Germany while waiting to get his wife here. He was a great guy.. Smart and skilled.. Sniper school Graduate while only a private.. I loved that guy and he he knew how to put light into any day…. also.. a great cook =) i miss you bro.

Chinese inventor-observer Lin Yutang said: “Belief in our mortality, the sense that we are eventually going to crack up and be extinguished like the flame of a candle, I say, is a gloriously fine thing. It makes us sober; it makes us a little sad; and many of us it makes poetic. But above all, it makes it possible for us to make up our mind and arrange to live sensibly, truthfully, and always with a sense of our own limitations.”

My friend Ric who turned 65 several months back, uses the expression “Gravity Sucks” a lot. Obviously he is referring in a roundabout way that Growing Older Sucks, but I don’t agree, at least not for me. I agree that circumstances are different from one to another, but so are the options.  Since taken on the challenge to get in shape early in the New Year, my wife and I usually go to bed hurting from muscles we had no clue about before, and I thank her wisdom daily that she insisted on buying the best mattress available a while back, even if it did come at the price of a small automobile. We credit the mattress for the fact that most of the pain has subsided to a bearable level as the result of a good night’s rest. The more we go to Club 14 to be “abused” by well intentioned kids half our age, the more I realize that healing does not go as fast as when I was in my twenties or thirties. This happens to be one of the many unsettling things that happen to you when you reach 60.

But honestly, it’s hardly the worst. No, the worst is that you can’t avoid thinking about death.

People you know – colleagues, friends, and family members – are seriously sick or dying. Going to funerals becomes a calender entry. Saying goodbye to people you shared part or much of your life with, isn’t easy. I lost my friend and brother last year, who was actually 8 years younger and I can not deny that at moments since then I look at death as a hateful thief – ready to rob me of the time I need to accomplish the goals I have yet to accomplish, as it did with him.
There is so much still to do: books to write, movies to make, music to play, business to conduct, and places to see (bucket list). But most of all there are relationships I owe serious time to.

I have been asked why, when writing how I spend my day, I rarely talk about the time I spend with my family and friends. In a roundabout way I do sometimes, but I also feel I should not be dragging them into public view without their permission. The main reason however is that I write mostly about what I’ve learned during the course of a lifetime. And even though it was a very intense lifetime so far, I have only learned about relationships in the last 6 years. I don’t think I did a very good job of maintaining relationships before.
So when I think about making good use of the time I have left, it’s clear to me that working on my personal relationships should be my top priority. It’s what I’m gravitating to in my acceptance process of death: maintaining and building relationships.

Growing up in the “Angst” of the European Cold War dependency, I recall reading “The Denial of Death”. It essentially relayed the story that it is frightening to consciously recognize mortality – to be fully aware that one day we will cease to exist. The fear of death is so great, in fact, that the reality of death needs to be suppressed from our consciousness so we can go forward with our lives.

In other words, we deny death in order to live fully.

As a young person denying death is “easystreet”, but as we age, it becomes more difficult to keep death away from our thinking. And I guess eventually, we come to a crossroad where we must decide: Should I continue to deny death and “rage against the dying of the light”? or should I learn to accept the fact that we are all dead men walking, on leave? Should I learn to embrace the grave as much as I do my bed at night, after a day of full participation?

Well I have learned that we can do both. We can continue to live our lives fully and purposefully – even embracing long-term goals – while gradually allowing the reality of death to sit comfortably at the table of our consciousness.

Honor your core life goals

Once you do make a commitment to respect the time you have, you learn to live in such a way that you honor your core life goals, as well as other important but non-essential life goals. The best way to do it is to make your core life goals a priority. And that means attending to them daily, preferably during that first precious hour of your working day, before you get to all your other daily obligations and emergencies. And after that hour you listen to your relationships.

I guess it may come as a cliché but most importantly, don’t think you can put off working on your core goals until some time in the future. Use your newly acquired ability to face your mortality to motivate you. Get the most important things done first.

It’s how I understand every single new experience that comes to me. I may still be uncertain where I’m going or what it’s all about, but I’m starting to accept from a vital perspective, a map of my place in space and time.

And while I will probably never find complete acceptance of the inevitable… it’s pretty mind-blowing to finally discover that accomplishments are enduring, as time in the end is the only thing in life we will run out of.

Is Happiness Overrated?

9000 Roses discarded in a dumpster on Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day came as another eye opener to me. Not because I have been trying to avoid giving in to Love a la Carte, but because I read the latest research on Happiness that stated that 85% of Americans consider themselves HAPPY. That startled me a bit, more so we are just crawling out of a deep and debilitating recession into what at best can be called “a feeble recovery”. 85% happiness? What has changed in the American attitude? Are we finally learning that Happiness has no real correlation with money and wealth?
Besides Love, Life is also about education, work, courage, honor, empathy, and resilience in the face of hardship. Real contentment comes from a feeling that your life is worthwhile, that it is dissolved into something meaningful and great. That leads to gratitude. And gratitude, it turns out, is an indispensable part of happiness.

One of the best lines I heard earlier this week on CBS sitcomTV came from Mike Bigg’s, (Mike and Molly) Chicago policeman side kick Karl, who was going to spend his Valentine Day’s evening, cruising around the the city to see if he could pick up a fresh break up standing on the side of the road. “There are so many break ups on Valentine’s Day because of unfilled expectations,” was his argument for this pathetic approach to happiness, “that it is a game of pick and choose”. Yet his observation is true. The media have built something ordinary as Valentine’s Day into a “Must” Performance with huge expectations, an obligatory happiness expression that mostly seems to fall on the male species. It has become so profiled in recent decades that I’m wondering if Supply (the gift) and Demand (the appreciation) have become a Law of Love, much like it is a law of economics. Given that equation, it’s easy to see that expectations can be as far apart as the distance between Venus and Mars

I see UPS delivery men hauling around Roses as if the flower grew thornless, I see diamonds flashing, ugly necklaces scream for attention and restaurants overbooked with couples that have conformed to the “message” that Valentine’s Day has to express LOVE and HAPPINESS. Personally I have more respect for the other days of the year, when the same couples sit in restaurants, silently staring at other dinner guests or menus, or distantly texting to friends, with an occasional nod in the direction of the table companion, not being able to maintain a conversation with each other beyond an obligatory nod when the waiter comes by to ask if everything is fine.
My wife and I are in the middle of a midlife tune up which includes an all encompassing diet, fitness and health overhaul program, so a restaurant visit was not on our menu yesterday. Neither was chocolate or alcohol, instead we opted for a 4 mile power walk, followed by a homemade dinner of deliciously grilled chicken breast and wokked mixed vegetables, with cut up cantaloupe for dessert. It was a feast!

Over the years I have come to learn that too much focus on the Happiness Syndrome actually stands in the way of Happiness, mainly because of expectations. People may be different in certain needs and wants, but at the core we are all the same  Each year, publishers print thousands of books on the subject. Talk show hosts offer advice from psychologists and therapists. Magazine covers promise “The Short-Cut to Happiness” or “The 7 Secrets of Wedded Bliss.”
You might reasonably wonder why this market is so large since Polls and Researches actually report that almost 85 percent of Americans say they are happy or very happy. Then why do we want to be happier still? It seems that people feel they could be even happier, if only they pursued it a little more ardently.

Happiness comes from doing something you love

Sadly however that approach won’t work, because Happiness is a by-product. It is achieved indirectly, by producing something beautiful or useful or by making someone else happy. The search for happiness, it turns out, is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.
Take a look around. Much of the economic misery we see today is due to the unbridled pursuit of bigger houses, fancier cars and more exorbitant trips. The lure of consumer culture and an obsession with more is precisely what keeps so many from contentment.
The Stoics argued that happiness results not from pursuing affluence and status but rather virtue and wisdom. Pythagoras, the sixth-century BC philosopher and mathematician, asked that his followers take time, before going to sleep each night, to pose three questions: What have I done? Where have I failed myself? What responsibility have I not fulfilled? Words of Wisdom that catapulted Pythagoras into history.

What he said in so many words is that if we first and foremost fixate on gratifying all our desires, we become superficial, acquisitive, deluded or foolish. Never happy. It actually will numb us to the pain of others. Every life is lived between the poles of joy and sadness. Laughter and love are part of it. But so are pain and suffering. To deny the tragic aspects of the world is to suppress a large part of what it means to be human. My wise mother often reminded me to go easy on people with the words: “Everyone has a Cross to Bear.”

The relentless pursuit of happiness creates a form of “Insensitivity”.
Great artists often try to awaken us – or stir our conscience – by reminding us of the more doleful aspects of life. Eric Clapton wrote “If I saw you in Heaven’ after his son Conner fell to his death; saxophonist John Coltrane wrote “Alabama”, a magnificent blues-based instrumental that expresses anguish and sorrow in response to the 16th Street Church bombing in 1963, an attack by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham that killed four girls.

Elton John performed a song by Bernie Taupin, called “Indian Sunset” about the sad demise of the Natives that populated this country before we set foot on it. The anguish in the song is palpable.

Next to music there is poetry, that can inspire us with its sorrowful realizations. History shows that men and women of genius are often melancholic. Consider writers like Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf. Composers like Rossini and Mahler. Statesmen like Lincoln and Churchill. Artists like Michelangelo and Gauguin. Philosophers like Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard.
Read the history of Vincent Van Gogh, one of the greatest painters in history and read deeper than the part where he cuts off a piece of his ear lobe; relive Haendel, who after years residing at the top of the musical world, fell into terrible poverty, ill health and deep depression. Yet from the depths of profound despair, he completed his greatest work, The Messiah.

Beethoven raged against advancing deafness and his own finitude, yet created immortal works during this period, including his Fifth symphony, his only opera, Fidelio, his late string quartets and the Ninth symphony with its triumphant Ode to Joy.

The Happiness Flow Chart is simple

I absolutely don’t mean to romanticize depression and drama, but I just want to point out that there can be no joy without sorrow. No sunrise without the night. Periods of unhappiness are natural and even valuable. How else are we to measure our best moments except against those that are not? Now if you’re unhappy all the time, you have to change something and that is usually not related to wealth.

Yet even today, millions equate happiness with money and wealth. But studies show that once people are lifted out of poverty, their happiness is not dependent on income. More often reported levels of well-being are a combination of genetics, health, circumstances and coping skills. How do you deal with the circumstance that are thrown at you?
Happiness comes when our aspirations are slowly being fulfilled and we are optimistic about the future. Happiness comes when we are developing our capabilities or helping others develop theirs. Happiness comes when we are learning and accomplish. Never mind that it may sound like a cliche, but happiness is in the journey, never in the destination. In short, we are happiest when happiness itself is not the goal.

Looking for Life in the Universe – [VIDEO]

The magnificent organization of the Universe

Few people look up when they hear the words “Kepler Space Telescope”. Even though Johannes Kepler’s 400 year old mathematical description of the Motion of Planets around the Sun in the bigger spiritual picture of our lives, gives us reason for hope that there actually is an intelligent plan at work in our cosmos, not a lot of people are attracted by the complexity of proving this statement.

Consequently it has become the norm for many to just establish an uninformed opinion and stick with it. Galileo’s telescopic observations, he was Kepler’s contemporary, proved that the earth moves; and he was put in jail for that statement, which later became a lifelong house arrest. The thing he proved was that we, Planet Earth, were not the center of the Universe. The church didn’t like that idea as it contradicted Christian doctrine in Chronicles 16:30, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, Psalm 104:5 and Ecclesiastes 1:5. Contrary to Gallileo’s fate, Kepler found recognition of his findings during his lifetime, but was also living proof that an organized Faith based society is very dogmatic and has no interest in examining the facts.

Living in a more enlightened time these days, where science and technology have become undisputed contributors to better living conditions, potentially controversial discoveries have become issues of discussion, rather than persecution. So when the Space Telescope carrying the name of lesser known astronomer Kepler announced last week to have found 15 extrasolar planets and identified 1,235 other candidates, it renewed excitement and energy among scientists to find extra-terrestrial life.

NASA launched Kepler 23 months ago on March 6, 2009 with the task to discover planets outside of our solar system. Over a 4 year period, the telescope will monitor some 100,000 stars with similar features as our Sun, all focused on trying to find habitable Earth sized planets. 54 have been identified as having the right size (gravitational pull) and orbit a habitable zone with the potential of liquid water.

The Telescope has only “scoped”a very small part of its assignment, but already scientists are getting excited to maybe one day find a planet with earth-like conditions and ultimately find signs of extraterrestrial life.
This of course, even 400 years after Gallileo’s ordeal, will still run into prejudice, potentially cutting off the faucet of financing. Organized religion forces on one side of the fence may largely decree that the “Arrogance of Science” should not be financed any longer by hardworking law abiding Christians, largely ignoring the fact that learning what life and co-habitation is all about, is the major reason for our existence.

In discussions about Earth and Mankind being the unique occupant in the Universe, I have always claimed that statement to be the ultimate arrogance of our assumptions. Our search for life is not just about discovery, it is even more about humility and understanding. It is in essence accepting that we know that we have no clue. And that is strength, not weakness. Admitting that you don’t know, unleashes a search for answers. And even though we have learned that in much of life that means that findings and conclusions are almost never final, we still have a never ending need for the truth. For example we now know that Columbus did not discover America in 1492; at best he re-discovered it for some folks over in the Southern parts of Europe. The only thing we need to do now is update the history books. Which again will take some time, because of institutional fears to change dogmatic beliefs and behavior.

No one in their right mind can seriously claim the odds of finding life somewhere out there at this stage, but with the Carnegie Institution of Science estimating that there may be 100 billion habitable planets in the Milky Way alone and the Hubble Space Telescope having already uncovered over 100 billion other galaxies, the possibilities are boggling my mind, only furthering my belief that somehow a master plan of creation is required to keep it all operational.
To illustrate the enormous arrogance that comes with thinking that we are unique in a cosmos, the size of which we haven’t even began to grasp or measure, I put a little video together that shows the Earth’s insignificance in size – only measured against planets in our own Galaxy. Enjoy

Spirituality can be breathtaking

The Helix Nebula sometimes called the "Eye of God"

I have been a friend of Alex Green and his weekly Spiritual Wealth email since he published his first one a couple or 3 years ago. As Investment Director for the Oxford Club , I have always been impressed by his spot on analytical mind, so ever since he finally took the nerve and curve to show the world his other side with the Spiritual Wealth newsletter, I have been a loyal follower. Having spent some time in Tibet in my much younger year’s made me move from organized religion, which I consider my outer being to spirituality (my inner being) in my beliefs and when Alex sent this email last night I knew I wanted to share it with you, pictures and all.

This week I also got an email from Rick Traum, who as a retired producer of the Tonight Show, is now searching for metaphysical and spiritual ideas to introduce his wife Nadine Vaughan’s highly spiritual novel: “Native Land, Lost in the Mystery of Time.

He sent me a link to a youTube video that turned out to be an entire series of incredibly beautiful and mystical video introductions to the ancient parts of Mexico. If you have a spare hour, it’ll be much worth your time.

A Spiritual High at 1,400 feet – by Alex Green

Totoco Eco-Lodge in Nicaragua

I’ve just returned from an investment conference at the Four Seasons Resort in Costa Rica, followed by a real-estate expedition to Agora’s beautiful Rancho Santana development on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua.

Our trip took an adventurous turn, however, when a small group of us traveled on to the Totoco Eco-Lodge on Ometepe, an island formed by two volcanoes rising from Lake Nicaragua, the biggest lake in Central America and home to rare freshwater sharks that – I am not making this up – get there by jumping like salmon up the rapids of the San Juan River.

What is an eco-lodge, exactly? It’s not the Waldorf, I can tell you that. The first night I slept under mosquito netting in a bunk bed in an open room (without doors or windows) with a dozen or so other intrepid travelers, many of whom were terrific snorers.

We were smack in the middle of a nature preserve – and Ometepe is home to hundreds of howler monkeys, small primates with an outsized roar that sounds like a cross between an elephant seal and someone getting violently ill.

Howlers get particularly noisy around dawn, which in Nicaragua arrives at an unspeakable hour. Lying in bed listening to them – you have no other choice – you’d swear the forest is full of lions and tigers. It’s not, of course, but the howlers certainly lend a touch of authenticity to the experience.

Our first day there, we noticed that men and women returning from a hike up the nearby Maderas volcano were absolutely encased in mud. “How careless can you get?” we laughed. We had no idea what we were talking about.

Early Sunday morning, five of us – and a local Nicaraguan guide – embarked on the vigorous nine-hour round-trip hike up the volcano, which soars 1,400 feet above sea level. Maderas is dormant. It hasn’t been active since the 13th century. But Concepción, smoldering ominously next door, erupted violently last year.

Our hike was idyllic at first. Crisscrossing the rainforest, we passed coffee, plantain and cacao trees. The bushes were filled with exotic flowers, butterflies, fork-tailed hummingbirds and bright-green parrots. We passed under troops of white-faced and howler monkeys – and marveled at ancient petroglyphs, rock engravings left by indigenous Indians dating to 300 B.C.

A couple miles up, we entered a cloud forest and the dirt path turned into a soggy climb through mud and clay. Often the only way to advance was by grabbing rocks or tree branches and pulling yourself up the trail. We landed on our rear ends more than once, but before long the shrieks and groans turned into peals of laughter. Our clothes and shoes were ruined but we pressed on.

Hikers on their way down rhapsodized about the view from the peak and told us about a beautiful lagoon in the center of the caldera. “Unfortunately, the water is too cold to swim,” they said.

When we got there, of course, we swam anyway.
My friend and colleague Dave Fessler was the first to step in and immediately sank to his knees in muck. Another step forward and he sank to his thigh – and kept going. Before long the other hikers splashed in behind him.

Listening to them shouting and waving, it was depressingly clear that I too was about to experience the frigid water and the most disgusting lake bottom imaginable. (And I grew up in the country, swimming in ponds.)

Relieved to be off the trail, my buddies cavorted about, covering themselves with muck and acting like giddy teenagers. You wouldn’t know it from the photo (below) but this was an alcohol-free afternoon.

Refreshed at last, we toweled off, made short work of a bag of chicken-salad sandwiches and climbed back up to the rim.

Lake Nicaragua between two volcanoes

The view from the peak, across the rainforest, beyond towering Concepción and out to the blue waters of Lake Nicaragua, was simply spectacular.
“Woo-hoo,” yelled one group member, “what a sight!”
“What a day!” shouted another.
“What a life!” added another, summing up what all five of us felt.
Despite our long trek, it was only noon. Dave looked down at his watch. “My brother is in church right now,” he said.
Then shading his eyes and gazing out across the horizon, he added, “And so am I.”

Carpe Diem,
Alex

Stagefright is a Form of Narcissism

Stagefright incapacitates many people

Stagefright is an interesting phenomenon. It’s a fear that has nothing to do with death or pain. It’s that feeling of unbearable anxiety prior to stepping up to the microphone. The moment you do, it’s usually already passed. Over a lifetime of performing I have met people who could play the constellations out of the universe when supported by stellar back up musicians, yet flop horribly when put in front of an audience as a solo act. The best guitar player that ever came out of Holland, my mentor Jan Akkerman, was a God when he played with his various bands (The Hunters, Brainbox and later the worldfamous Focus), but alone on stage he froze into a mumbling, apologetic idiot.

I had an interesting conversation with another guitarist about “stagefright” recently. He said he never experienced it, because he felt he was playing mostly for himself.
Although it’s been a while since I experienced it, ( I don’t perform nearly enough) I think most of us who performed though, have experienced it at some point… perhaps when we were first starting out…

With the Season starting up again for American Idol and America’s Got Talent we will witness once again a boatload of participants who will sweat blood and tears while shaking in their boots, especially with crazy boy Steven Tyler in the judge line-up. To avoid this, they can only approach the chance to perform as an opportunity.

While those who haven’t played out yet, might get scared just “thinking” about performing in front of a group of people, the reality is that if performance of any kind and talent is in your dream, you will adjust your life to do just that: perform.

So I started pondering stagefright and realized that there is really a set of different kinds of fears at play.  Most of them are interrelated.

There is

1. The Fear of the Unknown.

I remember my very first gig, which was actually in the church at my high school, in the time when churches first turned to popular musicians to attract more bodies in the seats of the Sunday morning services. I was nervous because I was 15 and I just didn’t know what to expect!I was a blues rocker after all, playing in the domain of God and getting paid for it.

I guess at that time I learned that the only solution is just to take action towards the fear — get out there and play.  Any irrational fear will dissipate upon taking action in the direction of it.
And yes, stagefright is an irrational fear because there’s really no danger – nothing to be afraid of in the form of bodily injury, except for making a fool of yourself.

There is also

2. The Fear of sounding bad

This can range from worrying about making mistakes, being sloppy, having a bad voice, or maybe the crowd won’t like your songs, or the equipment doesn’t operate properly, or a guitar is out of tune. Especially in outdoor venues, humidity or cold can play havoc with your tuning.

I think the only remedy is here is to simply be prepared. Practice your set thoroughly, and don’t try to play something you need more practice on or
try to play beyond your abilities.

3. The Fear of playing in front of a crowd

Of course this is actually fearing that you’re being judged by an audience. This, I’m afraid to say, comes from taking yourself too seriously. Relax.
Learn to have fun and just enjoy the experience for what it is. Who cares if you make a mistake or two? I don’t. If you have it, you will get where you will allow it to take you. If you only have love but no talent, enjoy the experience or become a member of a Karaoke Club. My band used to have a roadie who traveled around Europe with us just to be connected to the music experience. He once told me: “This is as close as I’ll ever get to being a Rock Star.”

4. Fear of not being good enough

For this, let go of self judgement.  Who cares if you’re not as good as the next guy?  Comparing yourself to others is just pridefulness. I remember the first time I saw 16 year old Joe Bonamassa, who was recently crowned Billboard’s No. 1 Guitarist in the world I had been playing off and on for almost 30 years and this kid blew me away. Initially I wanted to smack my guitar into pieces or at least never touch it again. But that’s not what music is. If music has you by the …., giving in to playing or singing will make your life so much richer

Just accept that others might be more skilled than you or less skilled than you and be ok with it.
Decide that you’re going to play with confidence at whatever skill level you’re at. Prodigy talent such as Bonamassa or this new British kid in Nashville – Sol Philcox, is impossible to match yourself against and at its highest purpose, music is NOT a competition. Guitar dueling may be fun, but I take Pinkfloyd’s Dave Gilmour over any shredder, at any time.
It’s a way of expressing and sharing our energy and I believe everyone has something to offer.

5. Fear of expressing yourself.

Know yourself and look inside to determine if there is something blocking you from expressing yourself on stage.
Who you are on the stage of life and as a person is pretty much who you are on stage.
Any form of art is, or at least should be, about bringing what’s inside of you, out into the world. Everything else is fake.

Many of us carry around emotional baggage — low self esteem, fear of life, guilt, etc. picked up along the way of growing up. Best advice: just accept where you are and work towards yourself in general and where you want to be.

Try to think of stage fright in a positive way. Fear is your friend. It makes your reflexes sharper. It heightens your energy, adds a sparkle to your eye, and color to your cheeks. When you are nervous about performing you are more conscious of your posture and breathing. With all those good side effects you will actually look healthier and more physically attractive.
Also make sure your opening is so well rehearsed, it comes spontaneously.

And most importantly, whether you perform in front of a classroom of 15, or in a stadium in front of 50,000 people, make sure to temporarily set aside any negativity you might have and just express the best energy you can.

Note: Also remember this advice when we call on you later this year in an effort to find good local talent to play on the stages of the Amelia Island Blues Festival.

Reminder of an Evening at the Cold Night Shelter

Ile de France in Paris is creation of art

Last night we volunteered to stay the evening shift at the local Cold Night Shelter. I think it’s something everyone who is in need of a swift kick into reality should do. Nothing special, nothing to brag about among your peers, just a clean, cool look at what your live could be if you just walked through the “wrong” sliding glass door. Don’t make a mistake by thinking it can’t happen to you. I am sure that’s what some of the people there thought at one point too.
While I was writing the story about the the leak in the Alaskan Pipeline and the maverick attitude of oil companies playing with our environment and our livelihood, I had the desperate need today to write about something more positive; something that makes life a lot more enjoyable, even though we often overlook the most simple expressions.

So today, instead of warning you about the direction our lifestyle and society is taking I want to let you in on my passions for the arts. Human Arts for me include architecture, painting, sculptures, writing and music. Most of all music. I got the music bug as a grade school kid singing a song called “Banjo Boy” by a Danish Duo named Jan & Kjeld in the bus on a school trip. when I got an “overwhelming” applause after the song ended a capella, I gave the bus driver his microphone back and was sold for life. Even though I grew up in the heart of the most liberating society, especially in the sixties, in Amsterdam, I never had the urge to enhance my musical hallucinations with drugs. The only thing I needed to get to fly Eight Miles High, was some Pink Floyd, Vanilla Fudge or the baseline riff of “In a Gadda da Vida” (in the Garden of Eden) in my ears and I would sing chorus with my friend Barry Hay of Golden Earring; No more Speed I’m almost there in their evergreen “Radar Love.”

Next to art as in painting and sculpturing, music is one of the most positive things about life itself. The aesthetic expression incorporated in music and art gives importance to the human race. As I see aesthetics as a division of philosophy, art can actually make philosophy…concrete. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then art can visually describe the way you see the world. Poetry and songwriting most often describe the way you think the world is, or should be. And a good sense of aesthetics is as important as having a well-developed intellect, in my opinion. Come to think of it, they kind of require each other’s company to fully appreciate.

Even if some people, too many actually, consider music something for their spare time at best and art a metaphysical expression of a doomed mind seeking relief from the demons that live in their head, real artists throughout history have always appreciated the creation of beauty first and foremost.

Humans have always placed a high value on aesthetics, even in the worst of times. There’s plenty of evidence the hunter-gatherers of prehistory took time out of their fight for survival to create art, and that has continued throughout history and continues today. Actually today’s major travel destinations include places like Machu Picchu in the Andes mountains and Capadoccia in Greece, for their creative beauty and lifestyle of the ancient. Our pursuit of beauty is a defining characteristic of what it means to be human. One of the main purposes of being wealthy is to be able to live in an aesthetic environment. The reason notorious misers like Hetty Greene are considered so shameful and bent is that they didn’t have a clue what to do with their money; they confuse the means – money – with the end: an aesthetic life.
Warren Buffet, the Oracle, is almost in that class; an idiot savant in general, he at least appears to have no sense of aesthetics. On the other hand, some of the poorest people in the world strive to be as beautiful as they can, and to own what small pieces of beauty they can afford; and this alone makes them worthy of respect.

I saw a couple of people like that last night in the cold night homeless shelter. It was a glimpse in their eyes; an easy recognition that life is not only about material things.

Edit Piaf with to the left Georges Moustaki

To the left of Edith Piaf is young Georges Moustaki

As a 15 year old boy, I hitch hiked one summer to Paris. My parents and the rest of my siblings had taken of for an Italian history and beach vacation and I had decided to stay home and practice with my new band. After 10 days I got the urge to go to Paris (hey I told you I grew up in Holland; we thought differently about a 15 year old hitch hiking to a foreign country.) Guitar on my back I arrived in Paris and slept under the bridges with the clochards. No I didn’t have to, as we had plenty of relatives living in the City of Lights. I was fluent in the language so there was no problem of miscommunication. I wanted to learn and experience the beauty of the city the Romans called Lutetia, I physically wanted to put my foot down ot Point Zero in front of the Notre Dame and feel the history while being surrounded by beauty. I also saw it through the eyes of my friends under the bridges, where the Rivers Seine and Marne meet at Ile de France. I played guitar in Montmartre’s Place du Tertre with Georges Moustaki, a cosmopolitan spirit who had written the fabulous “Milord” for Edith Piaf.

During those beautiful early days I learned that a brute with no sense of beauty, nor appreciation for it, can barely be called human.
Really good art distills an intense experience or emotion that you bury deep in your backpack for a life of understanding and appreciation.
Food and shelter as I witnessed once again last night, are essential, of course, but art is also essential – if you don’t have any beauty in your life, what’s the point?

A Practical Approach to Terror and Terrorism

Was it FDR or Churchill who said:"We have nothing to fear but fear itself"?

Getting the last parts of my Holiday Season discussions out of the way, I found this magnificent article from my new favorite informant on Global Politics, called STRATFOR. Since irony is reportedly a big NO NO in 2011 trend predictions I felt it would be good to have an American point of view on the very real threats posed by terrorism, versus the growing loss of freedom the US as a Society has been suffering since 911, rather than giving you my US transplanted opinion, as I have been arguing over the holidays.

Scott Stewart does actually a beautiful job in explaining why terrorism at this point in the game does not need a real act of violence to claim victory. Just the mere mention or misguided effort is enough to terrorize a nation that has not learned yet that giving in to terrorists is akin to dying a slow and painful mental death.

Separating Terror from Terrorism

By Scott Stewart

On Dec. 15, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent a joint bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies expressing their concern that terrorists may attack a large public gathering in a major U.S. metropolitan area during the 2010 holiday season. That concern was echoed by contacts at the FBI and elsewhere who told STRATFOR they were almost certain there was going to be a terrorist attack launched against the United States over Christmas.

Certainly, attacks during the December holiday season are not unusual. There is a history of such attacks, from the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21, 1988, and the thwarted millennium attacks in December 1999 and January 2000 to the post-9/11 airliner attacks by shoe bomber Richard Reid on Dec. 22, 2001, and by underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Dec. 25, 2009. Some of these plots have even stemmed from the grassroots. In December 2006, Derrick Shareef was arrested while planning an attack he hoped to launch against an Illinois shopping mall on Dec. 22.

Mass gatherings in large metropolitan areas have also been repeatedly targeted by jihadist groups and lone wolves. In addition to past attacks and plots directed against the subway systems in major cities such as Madrid, London, New York and Washington, 2010 saw failed attacks against the crowds in New York’s Times Square on May 1 and in Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on Nov. 26.

With this history, it is understandable that the FBI and the DHS would be concerned about such an attack this year and issue a warning to local and state law enforcement agencies in the United States. This American warning also comes on the heels of similar alerts in Europe, warnings punctuated by the Dec. 11 suicide attack in Stockholm.
So far, the 2010 holiday season has been free from terrorist attacks, but as evidenced by all the warnings and concern, this season has not been free from the fear of such attacks, the psychological impact known as “terror.” In light of these recent developments, it seems appropriate discuss the closely related phenomena of terrorism and terror.

Propaganda of the Deed
Nineteenth-century anarchists promoted what they called the “propaganda of the deed,” that is, the use of violence as a symbolic action to make a larger point, such as inspiring the masses to undertake revolutionary action. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, modern terrorist organizations began to conduct operations designed to serve as terrorist theater, an undertaking greatly aided by the advent and spread of broadcast media. Examples of attacks designed to grab international media attention are the September 1972 kidnapping and murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and the December 1975 raid on OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Aircraft hijackings followed suit, changing from relatively brief endeavors to long, drawn-out and dramatic media events often spanning multiple continents.

Today, the proliferation of 24-hour television news networks and the Internet have allowed the media to broadcast such attacks live and in their entirety. This development allowed vast numbers of people to watch live as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and as teams of gunmen ran amok in Mumbai in November 2008.
This exposure not only allows people to be informed about unfolding events, it also permits them to become secondary victims of the violence they have watched unfold before them. As the word indicates, the intent of “terrorism” is to create terror in a targeted audience, and the media allow that audience to become far larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of a terrorist attack. I am not a psychologist, but even I can understand that on 9/11, watching the second aircraft strike the South Tower, seeing people leap to their deaths from the windows of the World Trade Center Towers in order to escape the ensuing fire and then watching the towers collapse live on television had a profound impact on many people. A large portion of the United State was, in effect, victimized, as were a large number of people living abroad, judging from the statements of foreign citizens and leaders in the wake of 9/11 that “We are all Americans.”

During that time, people across the globe became fearful, and almost everyone was certain that spectacular attacks beyond those involving the four aircraft hijacked that morning were inevitable — clearly, many people were shaken to their core by the attacks. A similar, though smaller, impact was seen in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. People across India were fearful of being attacked by teams of Lashkar-e-Taiba gunmen, and concern spread around the world about Mumbai-style terrorism. Indeed, this concern was so great that we felt compelled to write an analysis emphasizing that the tactics employed in Mumbai were not new and that, while such operations could kill people, the approach would be less successful in the United States and Europe than it was in Mumbai.

Terror Magnifiers
These theatrical attacks have a strangehold over the human imagination and can create a unique sense of terror that dwarfs the normal reaction to natural disasters that are many times greater in magnitude. For example, in the 2004 Asian tsunami, more than 227,000 people died, while fewer than 3,000 people died on 9/11. Yet the 9/11 attacks produced not only a sense of terror but also a geopolitical reaction that has exerted a profound and unparalleled impact upon world events over the past decade. Terrorism clearly can have a powerful impact on the human psyche — so much so that even the threat of a potential attack can cause fear and apprehension, as seen by the reaction to the recent spate of warnings about attacks occurring over the holidays.

As noted above, the media serve as a magnifier of this anxiety and terror. Television news, whether broadcast on the airwaves or over the Internet, allows people to remotely and vicariously experience a terrorist event, and this is reinforced by the print media. While part of this magnification is due merely to the nature of television as a medium and the 24-hour news cycle, bad reporting and misunderstanding can also help build hype and terror. For example, when Mexican drug cartels began placing small explosive devices in vehicles in Ciudad Juarez and Ciudad Victoria this past year, the media hysterically reported that the cartels were using car bombs. Clearly, the journalists failed to appreciate the significant tactical and operational differences between a small bomb placed in a car and the far larger and more deadly vehicle-borne explosive device.

The traditional news media are not alone in the role of terror magnifier. The Internet has also become an increasingly effective conduit for panic and alarm. From breathless (and false) claims in 2005 that al Qaeda had pre-positioned nuclear weapons in the United States and was preparing to attack nine U.S. cities and kill 4 million Americans in an operation called “American Hiroshima” to claims in 2010 that Mexican drug cartels were still smuggling nuclear weapons for Osama bin Laden, a great deal of fearmongering can spread over the Internet. Website operators who earn advertising revenue based on the number of unique visitors who read the stories featured on their sites have an obvious financial incentive for publishing outlandish and startling terrorism claims. The Internet also has produced a wide array of other startling revelations, including the oft-recycled e-mail chain stating that an Israeli counterterrorism expert has predicted al Qaeda will attack six, seven or eight U.S. cities simultaneously “within the next 90 days.” This e-mail was first circulated in 2005 and has been periodically re-circulated over the past five years. Although it is an old, false prediction, it still creates fear every time it is circulated.

Sometimes a government can act as a terror magnifier. Whether it is the American DHS raising the threat level to red or the head of the French internal intelligence service stating that the threat of terrorism in that country has never been higher, such warnings can produce widespread public concern. As we’ve noted elsewhere, there are a number of reasons for such warnings, from trying to pre-empt a terrorist attack when there is incomplete intelligence to a genuine concern for the safety of citizens in the face of a known threat to less altruistic motives such as political gain or bureaucratic maneuvering (when an agency wants to protect itself from blame in case there is an attack). As seen by the public reaction to the many warnings in the wake of 9/11, including recommendations that citizens purchase plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves from chemical and biological attack, such warnings can produce immediate panic, although, over time, as threats and warnings prove to be unfounded, this panic can turn into threat fatigue.

Those seeking to terrorize can and do use these magnifiers to produce terror without having to go to the trouble of conducting attacks. The empty threats made by bin Laden and his inner circle that they were preparing an attack larger than 9/11 — threats propagated by the Internet, picked up by the media and then reacted to by governments — are prime historical examples of this.
In recent weeks, we saw a case where panic was caused by a similar confluence of events. In October, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) issued the second edition of Inspire, its English-language magazine. As we discussed in our analysis of the magazine, its Open Source Jihad section pointed out a number of ways that attacks could be conducted by grassroots jihadists living in the West. In addition to the suggestion that an attacker could weld butcher knives onto the bumper of a pickup truck and drive it through a crowd, or use a gun as attackers did in Little Rock and at Fort Hood, another method briefly mentioned was that grassroots operatives could use ricin or cyanide in attacks. In response, the DHS decided to investigate further and even went to the trouble of briefing corporate security officers from the hotel and restaurant industries on the potential threat. CBS news picked up the story and ran an exclusive report compete with a scary poison logo superimposed over photos of a hotel, a dinner buffet and an American flag. The report made no mention of the fact that the AQAP article paid far less attention to the ricin and cyanide suggestion than it did to what it called the “ultimate mowing machine,” the pickup with butcher knives, or even the more practical — and far more likely — armed assault.
This was a prime example of terror magnifiers working with AQAP to produce fear.

Separation
Groups such as al Qaeda clearly recognize the difference between terrorist attacks and terror. This is seen not only in the use of empty threats to sow terror but also in the way terrorist groups claim success for failed attacks. For example, AQAP declared the failed Christmas Day 2009 “underwear” bombing to be a success due to the effect it had on the air-transportation system. In a special edition of Inspire magazine published in November following the failed attack against cargo aircraft, AQAP trumpeted the operation as a success, citing the fear, disruption and expense that resulted. AQAP claimed the cargo bomb plot and the Christmas Day plot were part of what it called “Operation Hemorrhage,” an effort to cause economic damage and fear and not necessarily kill large numbers of people.

As we’ve noted before, practitioners of terrorism lose a great deal of their ability to create terror if the people they are trying to terrorize adopt the proper mindset. A critical part of this mindset is placing terrorism in perspective. Terrorist attacks are going to continue to happen because there are a wide variety of militant groups and individuals who seek to use violence as a means of influencing a government — either their own or someone else’s.

There have been several waves of terrorism over the past century, but it has been a fairly constant phenomenon, especially over the past few decades. While the flavors of terror may vary from Marxist and nationalist strains to Shiite Islamist to jihadist, it is certain that even if al Qaeda and its jihadist spawn were somehow magically eradicated tomorrow, the problem of terrorism would persist.

Terrorist attacks are also relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack. As AQAP has noted in its Inspire magazine, a determined person can conduct attacks using a variety of simple weapons, from a pickup to a knife, axe or gun. And while the authorities in the United States and elsewhere have been quite successful in foiling attacks over the past couple of years, there are a large number of vulnerable targets in the open societies of the West, and Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything — not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This all means that some terrorist attacks will invariably succeed.

How the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way that the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the 9/11 attacks, which caused the United States to invade Afghanistan (and arguably Iraq) were far more successful than bin Laden and company could ever have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, where the British went back to work as unusual the next day, were seen as less successful.

In the final analysis, the world is a dangerous place. Everyone is going to die, and some people are certain to die in a manner that is brutal or painful. In 2001, more than 42,000 people died from car crashes in the United States and hundreds of thousands of Americans died from heart disease and cancer. The 9/11 attacks were the bloodiest terrorist attacks in world history, and yet even those historic attacks resulted in the deaths of fewer than 3,000 people, a number that pales in comparison to deaths by other causes. This is in no way meant to trivialize those who died on 9/11, or the loss their families suffered, but merely to point out that lots of people die every day and that their families are affected, too.

If the public will take a cue from groups like AQAP, it too can separate terrorism from terror. Recognizing that terrorist attacks, like car crashes and cancer and natural disasters, are a part of the human condition permits individuals and families to practice situational awareness and take prudent measures to prepare for such contingencies without becoming vicarious victims. This separation will help deny the practitioners of terrorism and terror the ability to magnify their reach and power.

“Separating Terror from Terrorism is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”

The Christmas Blue Bell

Special Ornaments to are passed on over a lifetime

Buried in the Christmas and New Year’s emails came this following story by Judith Harris with the question if we would be interested in publishing it. After reading it, it rang a bell on so many levels that I have to share it with you as it deals with gracefully accepting the changes of time. When we moved to Amelia Island now almost 5 years ago, we had at least 10 storage containers filled with Christmas items collected over the years, each with special memories. Last year, when our last one got married and moved out, my wife divided all the memorabilia among the kids and at least 8 storage containers left the garage. The memories were bittersweet. Here is Judith’s story which undoubtedly will find recognition with many people on our island.

The Christmas Blue Bell

By: Judith Harris

No, my Christmas Blue Bell is not a new species of flowering plant that blooms here on Amelia Island. It is a musical bell covered in blue velvet that has been in my possession since 1967. I purchased it while visiting St. Thomas when I was a young woman. Like me, the bell is now showing its age.  The gold-braided trim has fallen away, and the lush blue velvet has faded to a pale fabric with an occasional tear, sag and wrinkle. The music box within must have rusted solid because the bell no longer plays its charming tune, the title of which I have long ago forgotten.

Each Christmas as I gently unwrap this bit of memorabilia and set it out on the coffee table, I reminisce about all the Christmases the bell and I have shared with friends, family, and most especially; the children and grandchildren who delighted in it when it was still able to sing out it’s song, or played with it when it had become just a silent novelty.

We moved here to this Paradise Island 7 years ago and each Christmas I give away a few of my treasures to our children. As time passes, I notice that I am decorating less and less. I don’t know if it’s because there are not enough hours in a day for me to accomplish all the things I wish to do, or if it’s because I now accomplish things at a slower pace. Maybe it’s a little bit of each. This year I parted with my precious Blue Christmas Bell.

Darian, our oldest grandson, was thrilled to receive it. He’s the only one of our grandsons who actually enjoyed the music box before it rusted itself solid. In my mind’s eye, I can still see him toddling around the house with the bell held close to his little ear. There was a happy twinkle in his eye and a sweet broad smile on his cherub lips. He never tired of winding and listening to the music. His other favorite thing to do was to take Baby Jesus out of his manger and hide him in a decorative brass object that with a bit of imagination could have passed as a replica of Aladdin’s Lamp.

Last year we gifted “Aladdin’s Magic Lamp” to Darian. Baby Jesus went to our dear second born grandson William. It was also one of his favorites. The Jesus Baby was purchased in Jerusalem, was hand carved from Olive Tree wood, was used by William for teething and is now missing a left foot. William’s little brother Michael is our darling third born grandson and has not yet picked his treasures. I am sure at some point he will decide which items are his favorites. The same is true for our littlest angel grandson Alex, who is last but certainly not least. Grandpa and I have received many blessing in this life, but none can compare to our most precious grandsons that our daughters have brought into our lives.

Christmas is now over and I am sitting here keeping warm in my cozy kitchen, watching the cold wind pummeling my Queen Palm, and the sad frost bitten branches of my drooping Hibiscus as they sway to and fro. I guess Jack Frost decided he wanted to come south to help us ring in the New Year. We heard that there were snow flurries in Jacksonville. Hopefully the snow will find it’s way to us this evening. Wouldn’t it be magical to see snow flurries dancing in the moonlit sky over the ocean?

Of course, Christmas could have been more perfect if our dear children had been with us, but that was not meant to be.  They live in Maryland and we no longer want them making the trip at this time of year. We can’t travel to be with them because my health prevents me from exposing myself to the cold northern air. [I have been remaining in-doors during these unseasonably cold Amelia Island days.]

Skype to the Holiday Rescue

However, thanks to modern technology, we were able to share Christmas with our family by visiting on the computer with SKYPE.  Heaven should bless the folks who created SKYPE, it is a wondrous invention. It’s the next best thing to actually being together in person and we all enjoy it immensely.  Grandpa and I were able to share in all the family fun without setting a foot out of our house.  Santa was good to everyone, including us, and we all had a great time together.

I like taking a few minutes every year to jot down a few after Christmas thoughts. Sometimes I light a candle and sip tea. Sometimes I dim the lights and turn on all the Christmas trees around the room and pour a glass of wine. This time I am bundled warm in my kitchen, drinking hot coffee as I watch the cold west wind torturing my poor palm trees. It’s a pleasant habit, reminiscing about all the blessings of the Holiday and memories of past pleasures.

Yes, for sure I am an old fashioned sentimentalist, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am going to be real serious about CPM

Nature is only about Critical Production Mode

The first thing we people do every year is make a new list of “resolutions”. Well not necessarily new, as most of us repeat the list we have put together over the years with maybe a small addition of the current flavor of the day. We’ll try for for about 3 weeks to eat a bit healthier, walk or exercise a bit, set new professional or income goals, spend some more time with loved ones, quit this or that bad habit and if you’re really adventurously full of yourself, you’ll actually take a piece of paper, write it all down and share it with someone in the hope that they will keep you on the straight and narrow to your goals. By the time Spring comes around we have all but forgotten about them and often pass the feeling of failure off to “time or circumstances weren’t right”.

Well I got news, if you can handle the truth; life doesn’t happen that way, because it always gets in the way of the best laid plans, often because these plans are too ambitious and require for you to become a different person. I overheard a conversation at last night’s New Year’s Eve party where two young couples were discussing the fact that you first have to be happy with yourself before you can enter a happy relationship. Even though I have learned over a lifetime that there are exceptions to this rule, the generality of it is absolutely correct.

I took me years to understand that, until several years ago I went to a seminar where a true Internet Marketing Expert by the name of Alex Mandossian spent an hour explaining the concept of CPM – Criticial Production Mode and the life changing essence.

The simplicity of the concept is mindblowing: spend at least your first thirty minutes every morning on your highest priority goal. Never mind what that goal is, spend the first 30 minutes every day on accomplishing it.
If it’s exercise, a walk, swimming, cycling, don’t take a shower before you have done it. If it is working on a lifelong dream of creating something, spend the first 30 minutes on it. It’s a minimum of 3.5 hours a week or 175 hours over the year (I give you two weeks off). That is quite a lot of time to set real change in motion.

However there is a huge BUT attached to CPM…you cannot be distracted or disturbed from it. You CANNOT let anybody interrupt your process of accomplishment. Period. CPM is sanctity. Now when I talk or write about the accomplishments and necessities of a Critical Production Mode, I get a lot of people explaining that their life’s rhythm does not allow for a CPM. There are the kids that need to get ready to go to school or there is that early morning meeting or briefing, or the car needs to go to the garage or the doctor’s appointment could only be made at an early hour, or I have to fly out of town – valid reasons to interrupt a an early morning ritual, but not a valid reason to not do it. Those can be accepted excuses for breaking the CPM routine, but there are plenty of occasions during that same day to catch up on your 30 minutes.

If I seriously want to accomplish something I go with Nike’s “Just Do It”. And armed with the knowledge that there is always ” that road to hell that is paved with good intentions”, I moved my Critical Production Mode out of the danger zone of interruption: I get up 30 minutes earlier! Well to be fair, my CPM is now about 2 hours.
Yet by the time the world around me wakes up, I already walk around with a sense of accomplishment.

So for the New Year, you may try to set your personal sights on something you have always wanted to accomplish and than create the production mode that does not distract. Contrary to popular belief it takes 6 weeks, not 18 days, to form a habit, simply because it takes that long for your environment to catch on with the new circumstance. Critical Production Mode is serious, but it works. And it works best if you start out the day with it. Just get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful, because that is distraction.

If you start today, you’ll be a pro by Valentine’s Day and have truly accomplished a meaningful change. Personally I have 3 manuscripts that saw first daylight in 1994/1995. I think it’s time to include them in my CPM for the finishing touch.

Have a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous and Spiritual 2011 and never forget that true happiness comes from creativity and helping others.

A Personal Coming of Age Story

You need a strong compass for those times when the signs are pointing in the wrong direction.

With the new year coming, I thought this personal story of mine nothing less than appropriate. It’s about change, opportunity and all the little decisions – that be they small are nonetheless difficult to make – that everyone has to make at some point. I will always contend, only you can know what is best for you and your situation, and thinking a situation all the way through will help tremendously in avoiding negative circumstances. Having said that, the following story is a little glimpse into a recent decision my husband and I had to make.

It all started with a decision that had already been made, actually. My husband, Eddie, and I recently had decided to pursue a rather advantageous career path. The change was risky and included an abrupt move to a far-away city, a hasty series of resume-building sessions and professional networking. Last but not least, the new plan would most likely have meant a large decrease in pay for both of us, which would mean uncertain financial circumstances – something that fortunately neither of us have had to deal  with before. With all odds against us, we were still 200% certain that we were doing the right thing and that change, especially this type of change, was right for us.

Just when we thought we had everything figured out, life dealt us a wild card.

After our lengthy and thorough discussions, and after all our efforts and energy we had put into our move from this Sunshine State to the mountain tops, we got a heavy dose of what life’s road blocks are really like, or what to us looked like one anyway. The last day of work before the holidays, Eddie went in and found out he’s getting a promotion.

Despite our plans, I was ecstatic to hear that Eddie’s was getting a promotion. It meant that he was gaining well-deserved respect from his company, his hard work was paying off and that we would have some newly found savings to use while planning out the move. I was thrilled to say the least. Nonetheless, the promotion would mean harder work for Eddie, more responsibility, more exposure and interaction with clients who more often than not find something to complain about, but it would also mean an increase in pay – something we had long looked forward to.

Be that as it may, there was no way we would let money stand between us and our dreams. We weren’t convinced that the move wasn’t the right thing for us at this time in our lives.

Me Climbing Machu Picchu. It was a long hike, but well worth the effort.

We thought we needed to pursue our dreams from the heart while we’re still young. Pursuing our dreams meant doing whatever it takes, despite financial hardship. Philosophically, we had everything under control. We didn’t mind getting a decrease in pay;  we aren’t that used to that much stuff anyway. As far as moving away from family. Well, many people do that and everything always seemed to turn out okay. These were pieces of our thought process that led us to believe that our dreams were more important than money. We still very much believe that, but there was one detrimental mistake we were making.

After we found out about the promotion, Eddie and I confided in a close friend who happens to be quite a bit older than us. I’ll refer to him as ‘Mark’ for simplicity’s sake and to respect his privacy. We needed advice about one of the most important decision one could make – follow your dreams or settle with the hand you’ve been dealt? Since our view of the world is rather confined by our age and thus by our limited experience in confronting negative circumstances, Mark’s advice was sure to humble us and give great perspective to our current situation. Fortunately for us, it did just that.

The first thing Mark hashed out was our thinking process. Everything doesn’t necessarily have to boil down to pursuing our dreams or making money. He taught us that our dreams could simply be pursued from a different angle, through a different mindset, and with less financial tension than our original plan involved.

What humbled us the most wasn’t actually advice at all, but rather a self-reflective question. Mark asked us something that would truly resonate with us, “Why go and move to an unfamiliar town to try to prove yourselves to an unspoken number of people you don’t know and who don’t know your potential, when you can stay right here, where the people you know know your potential and are more than happy to support your dreams?” We were silent with awe, obviously.

He went on, “You can stay right here, work your way up your current career path’s ladder of success while simultaneously financing your business dream on the side until that one day comes when you’re truly ready to cross over and make that difficult decision to leave your job for your true passion. You don’t have to start from the dirt bottom. You can keep the job you have, provide for your family now and slowly pursue your dream while never losing sight of what’s truly important – family and stability.”

I have always prided myself on being an opportunist. So, it was very eye-opening to realize I hadn’t noticed the opportunity standing on our doorstep. Staying didn’t have to mean ditching our dreams; it could mean the opportunity to approach our dream indirectly, by funding our business idea with the raise. Of course Eddie had immediately agreed to the new position, and we had said nothing to let on about our original decision being unfazed by the promotion. So, we were set to go with our new found perspective.

Eddie and Me Christmas 2010

Thanks to Mark and his ability to articulate his wholesome understanding of life, you won’t be seeing Eddie and me making the said mistake of putting the cart before the horse any time soon. And since our original plan had all to do with small business development and working from the bottom up, Mark’s advice was spot on and very much appreciated. So, for us, for now, we will be staying put, right here in sunny Amelia Island, left to pursue our dreams from a wiser standpoint.

I know it may sound like a sad story, with headlines reading, “Young Couple Trades in Dreams for Money,” but it’s really not. It’s the beginning of a long tale of two lovers; It’s an interesting turning point in the life of a young married couple; It’s a life lesson well learned – the ‘easy’ way, for once. Whatever you choose to call it, to me, it’s anything but sad.

We are still committed to pursuing our dreams. However, where there once was ambition, fervor and ideals, there now lie the realities of economic stability, business networking and patience. Some may call this a coming of age story. I would probably agree with that. This is probably the first of many coming-of-age moments in our lives, but we will still always remain hopeful and optimistic.

In time, we will see what comes of our decision to stay put. If we have done the right thing, we will reap what we have sowed. If not, no harm done, really. We will still have the economical means to pursue a new dream. Maybe start a little family. Who knows. Perhaps our next great opportunity is staring us right in the face, and we don’t even know it.

A Christmas Tale…of sorts

And don't forget your friends

The following tales are not necessarily Christmas stories, but the first one explains much of what Baby Jesus had to face when he was born as it puts life in front of us and explains about the choices we make. It came to me via Ion Yah Mindreci whose philosophy is that you can get pretty much everything you want in life if you will just help enough other people get what they need.

The second story came from Pam Slim about her dad, a man after my own heart.

A carrot, an egg and coffee beans

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things had turned so hard for her. She said she did not know how she was going to make it and was ready to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed that as soon one problem was solved, a new one arose.
The mother looked at her daughter and took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high heat. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first one she 
placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last one she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil; without saying A word.

After about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. 
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see.”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the daughter said.
Her mother brought her closer to the countertop with the three pots and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she looked at the hard-boiled egg. 
 
Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma and then asked, “What does it mean, 
mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water.
Each had reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its 
liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its insides became hardened. Both hard used the boiling water to become something different.
The ground coffee beans however did something unique: they had changed the water and now used the water in a different manner by giving it taste, aroma and color.

The Mother looked at her daughter and asked: “Which are you?”
“When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? 
Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?” 
 
Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity you wilt 
and become soft and lose your strength? 
 
Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have you become hardened and stiff? 
Does your shell still looks the same on the outside, but on the inside you are 
bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart? 
 
Or are you like the coffee bean?

The bean that actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, you elevate yourself to another level?  Now you need to decide what you want to be; a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way. The brightest 
future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can’t go forward in life until you learn and let go of your past failures and heartaches.

May you wish this Christmas  to have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy.

Christmas Evening 1956

My Dad was leaving the office of his first job as reporter/photographer/sports editor/weatherman at the Roseville Press-Tribune, driving his 1954 Mercury Sedan to his parent’s farm house for dinner.
It was bitter cold outside.

He had a freshly-cut $25 bonus check in his pocket, a fortune for his $57.50 weekly salary.
He was going 40 or 50 miles an hour down the road just outside of Roseville when he saw a couple huddled by the side of the road, hitchhiking. The woman was clutching a small bundle that he realized when he sped past was a baby.

About a thousand yards after passing them, he pulled off the side of the road, hung a u-turn, and went back to get them.
They climbed in his warm car gratefully, and snuggled against the back seat.

“Where are you going?” my Dad asked.
“To Oregon,” the father said. “They are still picking fruit up there, so we are going to get some work.”

My Dad looked out the windshield at the frigid night, and started the car back down the road.
He pulled in the parking lot of a bowling alley where he knew the owner.  “Stay here for a second, I will be right back,” he said.
He went inside and cashed his bonus check at the bar.

He got back in the car, and drove to the Greyhound station, where he purchased two one-way bus tickets to Portland. The tickets came to just about $25.
With some spare bills in his pocket, he got some food at the snack bar and brought it to the couple.
The mother was overwhelmed with emotion.
He waved goodbye, and drove to his parent’s house with a good feeling in his heart.
“Although that $25 was a lot of money at the time, I didn’t really need it,” he told me years later. “I was on my way home to a warm house and big Christmas Eve dinner.”

Merry Christmas from all of us!

May you receive the help you need just when you need it the most,

and may you give help at the moment in which it is most needed.