Thinking Before We Speak

For some reason some of my closest friends over the years have been ministers and police officers.  They both, for the most part, are well respected professions. Next to lawyers, they’re probably two of the most joked about professions as well.  


I’ve realized over the years there are some things that people say quite often to them that is not only rude but can be quite offensive.  For example, my pastor friends always hear things like, “I wish I had a job like yours, where I would only work one day a week”.  Not at all true!  As an outsider looking in, I’m surprised at the number of hours my minister friends put in a given week.   In addition to the endless list of church meetings, they also get phone calls at home, get called out in the middle of the night to go pray at someone’s bedside, or counsel a family in crisis.  Not to mention all the time they spend preparing for their Sunday sermons.  


I’ve also noticed most of my minister friends are emotionally drained.  They pour so much into others they have little left for themselves and their own families.  The constant worry of living in a fishbowl with hundreds of eyes watching their every move and having to put on a put-together face to the church (because they expect it) yet crumbling on the inside from the constant criticism is daunting to say the least.   


I’m sure we can all come up with a list of things people say that offend us.  As a photographer, I often hear, “that camera you have takes nice pictures”.   That’s like saying, “that stove you have bakes a nice cake”.  It really has nothing to do with the stove or the camera.   


We’ve all joked about police officers and their donuts, but one of the most offensive lines I’ve heard spoken about police officers is, “I pay your salary!”.  Guy gets pulled over or questioned for something and the officer is quickly reminded that he’s a burden to all tax payers.  I believe people who say such things typically have greater issues with authority.  If you take a single police officer’s salary locally for example and divide it by the number of people who live in the city, we’re really only paying pennies a year for their services.   Its also good to remember that they’re also the ones who run towards danger to rescue the rest of us.  And they know when they kiss their wives and children good-bye each day it could be their final farewell, even if they’re cautious and play every move by the book.   Yes, there are officers out there who abuse their authority, but for the most part the majority of them understand their duty to “protect and serve”.  

bible and gavel

I’m thankful to have both cops and ministers around.  I’ve noticed over the years they both share similarities.  They both uphold laws and values, are mocked by those who need them most, and they’re really never off duty.  I would add they’re probably lied to more than the rest of us and at the end of the day most of us don’t heed their advice.   


So the next time you see one of them remember, they’re just like the rest of us…human!


The bottom line is as it always has been. If you can’t say something nice, well, you know the rest…



Summer 80s Style

I feel sorry for kids today.  For all the things they have, they’re really missing out.  Call me old fashioned or maybe I’m just getting older, but we had it good in the 80s.  As I’ve traveled around this summer, I see very few children playing outside.  What happened to building ramps out of old pieces of wood and jumping over them on your bike?  What happened to homemade popsicle, hopscotch, and double dutch competitions?  I suppose the only thing better than summertime was being a kid at summertime.  I’m afraid today’s overexposure to video games, the endless channel lineup, and lack of true childhood imagination has left kids bored this summer.  


My summers in the 80s consisted of getting up early riding my bike to a friends house and not coming home until dark.  We sort of ate what we wanted, made forts in the backyard out of stuff we found in alley way or my parents shed, and drink from the water hose.  Who can forget that?  We didn’t have bottled water to keep us cool.  We just found a water house and took a drink.  When it got dark we grabbed a mason jar and ran around catching lighting bugs.  

rubic cube

I do applaud my parents for one summer activity requirement – reading.  Every summer I had to read several books.  I think it helped to develop my love for reading which has continued into my adult life.  In fact, I ran across one of my old “choose your own adventure” books a few weeks ago. 


Today there are endless blogs, Pinterest, and articles loaded with activities for parents to do with their kids.  I checked out a few of the blogs and articles and found things like elaborate trips and expensive craft projects.  One idea called for buying more than a hundred pool noodles and constructing a backyard water park.  I’ll admit that sounds fun, but how long will that last?


I’ll be the first to admit, I enjoy our modern conveniences.  Smartphones, fast internet, and more than three television channels is enjoyable, but they certainly don’t take the place of good old-fashioned summertime fun.  Perhaps its time we all unplug and make it an 80s summer.  Here are a few ideas:


Take a bike ride or better yet, hike and take pictures along the way

Build a blanket fort

Play in the sprinkler or jump in puddles when it rains

Climb a tree

Have a bike race

Make ice-cream or popsicles 

Have a picnic (no fast food)

Play hide & seek

Turn on some music and dance 

Go stargazing

Learn to juggle

Do a puzzle

Hand write a letter to a friend


Lastly, get some crayons and color.  And by the way, it’s OK to color outside the lines too.  Let your imagination run wild!  Albert Einstein once said, “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world.”   Put the phone down, turn off the TV, and go enjoy yourself!  


Dog vs. Cats

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not too crazy about cats. Before you throw down your newspaper in disgust, hear me out. It’s not that I hate cats — I just don’t think they like me.  

In fact, some of our dear friends have cats and little Fido runs and hides when my wife and I come around.  

I guess you could say I’m more of a dog person. My first pet was a beagle named Tiny. Tiny was a loving dog even though he had some age on him. He was actually my sister’s dog, but got passed down to me when she left home.  

After Tiny’s death, my parents wouldn’t allow me to have another dog. It was not until I was married I adopted an over sized dachshund named Tex. Tex brought so much joy to our lives. We had birthday parties for him complete with pet-friendly cake, took him on vacations, and even took him to work a time or two. He was so spoiled my wife and I would jokingly say we would want to be reincarnated as him when our time on Earth ended. He had it great!  Plenty of food, a comfy bed, and was surrounded by people who took care of his every need.  

I suppose that’s the case with most of our pets whether dogs or cats.  

cats and dogs

A recent study by Carroll University in Wisconsin found there is a definite difference between dog and cat lovers. They polled hundreds of people and found dog lovers tend to be more lively and outgoing while cat lovers were more introverted and open minded.  

Here’s the part of their study that got me, though. They found cat lovers scored higher on intelligence than dog lovers. I don’t agree with that at all. How does the fact I own a dog instead of a cat have anything to do with how intelligent I am?  

The study, which was presented at the annual Association for Psychological Science meeting this year, goes on to point out dog people are more lively because they’re going to want to be outside, talking to people, and bringing their dog along.  Whereas cat owners, the study claims, tend to stay inside more reading books and lounging, are more sensitive and tend to be more introverted.  

The other interesting finding was dog lovers said they chose a dog because they wanted companionship. I agree with that finding wholeheartedly! After Tex died at the age of 14 we felt this overwhelming void in our house. Everything we did seemed awkward without him around. Some may say, “its just a dog.” I firmly believe pets become a part of the family and in our case like a child since we don’t have children. 

It’s possible we choose our pets based on our own personalities. Cats are obviously more independent animals and tend to be more cautious of others. They can also in some cases be more affectionate than dogs. Affection was one of the top reasons cat lovers said they chose a cat over a dog. 

Whether you’re an introverted cat lover or an outgoing dog lover, I think we can agree there is nothing like the unconditional love of a pet. Sure we all have our differences, but there’s very little that outranks my 11-pound dachshund Zeke enthusiastically greeting me when I walk in the door every evening. Call me fanatical or lacking in intelligence if you want, I prefer my dog over most people any day. 

The Mother-In-Law

How many mothers-in-law does it take to ruin a marriage?  Just one!  Then there’s the other mother-in-law saying:  The best mother-in-law is the one that lives far away.  Mothers-in-law, have been the subject of jokes for as long as people have been married.


In 2005 Jane Fonda took on the controlling, vicious, and nasty character of the mother-in-law in the romantic comedy Monster-in-Law. Her actions in that movie didn’t provide any lessons on how to be a perfect one either.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.


Sunday night, I was reminded by my wife that my mother-in-law’s birthday is today.  Of course I didn’t remember, but it did spark a conversation about how mothers-in-law really get lots of grief.  Sometimes it is really not their fault and other times I think they bring it on themselves.  Relationship problems with in-laws are among the most common issues people raise when talking about family.  I’m sure issues with in-laws have eventually landed many people in divorce  court.


Take for instance the mother-in-law who constantly criticizes her daughter-in-law for not raising the children as she would, not keeping the house clean enough for her son, or one who oversteps her boundaries in every possible manner.


As a wedding photographer, I often hear the new mother-in-law tell the bride something like, “You better take care of my son!”  or “He may be your husband now, but he’ll always be my son!”


I did a quick Google search and found dozens of books dealing with the subject of difficult mothers-in-law.  Some of the tips include:


Avoiding pointless bickering!  If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years, no amount of arguing will change someone’s perspective on religion, politics, or any other controversial subject.


One of the more unique approaches to dealing with mothers-in-law is to live in accordance with your own values.  That means if you know your own values, and live accordingly, people’s remarks don’t sting nearly as much and eventually they back off.  So when she wants your child to wear certain clothes or participate in certain activities, if you know your values and where you stand on such issues, you can politely tell her, “that’s not for my family”.


Trusted television psychologist Dr. Phil also has an entire section on his website to help people manage their in-laws.  He says if you’re planning to stick with your spouse, then you have to agree to stick with the in-laws too.  He goes on to suggest a laundry list of “rules to live by”.


  • Good fences make good neighbors. Your in-laws need to be your neighbors and there needs to be really good fences up. Set boundaries about when they are and are not invited into your lives.


  • Try not to criticize your spouse for his/her relationship with his/her parents. It may only lead to more clinginess or complications.


  • Keep in mind that your parents only know what you tell them. If you go to them every time you’re angry, and frustrated and having problems in your marriage, they hear that, but they don’t hear when you make up.


And my personal favorite, “The other woman in every man’s life is his mother. If your husband starts in with: “Well, my mother does it this way …” then tell him to go over and live with her.


Some of these make us all chuckle, but its reality.  Love them or hate them, they’re part of our lives if we want to remain married.


I’m happy to say my mother-in-law is one of my biggest fans.  She’s proof that all those jokes are totally untrue.  I know I forgot her birthday this year.  Heck, I did manage to write an entire column about you, that should give me a few extra brownie points.  Perhaps these kind words could count as your present too?






My Commencement Address

Finish this statement:  Success is….  In just a few days, students across our area will don the traditional robe, mortar board, and tassel and make their way across the stage to receive their high school diplomas.  Graduation is a joyous time to celebrate the milestone of academic achievement.  It’s also a time for family and friends to gather to show the graduates how proud they are of what they’ve accomplished.  Of course no graduation is complete without a great speech.  Commencement speeches are meant to be inspiring and empower the graduate to run out of the door and chase their dreams.  Many of them are filled with clichés and lies too.


I remember my high school graduation speaker referring to us as a  “silver spoon generation”.  She said we wouldn’t have to work as hard as those before us with the addition of computers and other technological advances.   It’s been nearly 25 years since I graduated high school.  I agree my generation probably didn’t have to work as hard as baby boomers and those generations before us, but I don’t recall any silver spoons being tossed about either.  


Sure its a different world today than it was even 25 years ago.  My advice to the Class of 2014 is best summed up in Charles Sykes’ book Dumbing Down our Kids. In the book Sykes discusses how feel-good teaching has created a generation of kids with no concept of reality.  Which is why he believes many of them fail after high school.  He lists several rules which I believe are guidelines for anyone entering the “real world.”  I added a few of my own comments to his rules.   


  1. Life is not fair.  


My mother always said fair is how you describe a woman’s complexion or the weather…not life!


2.  The world won’t care about your self-esteem.  The world will expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself.  


3.  You will not make 40-thousand dollars a year right out of high school.  


Only well-diggers start at the top.  Start at the bottom, pay your dues, and work your way up.  If you don’t make it, its OK.  Bloom where you’re planted!


4.  If you think your teachers are tough, wait til you get a boss. 


My first boss didn’t seem to care about my lack of sleep, family obligations, or other personal issues like my teachers did.  He believed everyone should give a full days work in order to receive a paycheck.     


5.  Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.  Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping, they called it “opportunity”.  


Taking chances is crucial.  Too many people are afraid to take a chance or get out of their comfort zone.  Successful people take action on the opportunities they’re given.   




6.  If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.  


Listen to people’s stories.  Everyone has a story.  You may learn something if you take time to listen.   


7. Life is not divided into semesters.  You don’t get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you “find yourself”.  Do that on your own time.  


8.  Be nice to nerds, chances are you’ll end up working for one.  


So to the Class of 2014, I say work hard, don’t expect lots of compliments either.  Give 100% to anything you set your hands to.  If you’re passionate about waiting on people, be the best waiter at the restaurant.  Lastly, success is overrated.  Fame and money won’t make you happy.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, or even unemployed, discipline, hard work, and being kind to those around you will give you a level of satisfaction like no other.  Congratulations, enjoy the journey! 



Missing the Front Porch

Each month I take thousands of photos.  Documenting weddings, first communions, and newborn baby’s first smiles is just one of my many jobs.  There are two photo made of me more than 35 years ago that remain my favorite.  The photos were taken by my older brother.  There was no special occasion.  As I recall, it was just a typical afternoon at my grandparents house.  


As I look back, their lives were so much different from ours today.  My grandmother got up early everyday to get the coffee percolating, the biscuits made, and prepare for the rest of the family to join her at the breakfast table.  No, she didn’t pull out her instant coffee or open up one of those long slender cans of biscuits.  She kept a bucket of flour, lard, and other key ingredients to roll out a fresh batch of biscuits at every meal.  


She was a unique person.  I’ve never really met anyone like her.  Her days were spent making her own dresses, reading her Bible, tending their large garden, and taking care of my grandfather.  She never once wore a pair of pants.  She believed those were reserved for men only.


Her front porch, which is where these photos were taken, was also special.  Our lives sort of revolved around it.  It was a gathering place for family, friends, and neighbors.  Porch culture isn’t what it used to be!  Porches were a necessity back in those days.  Most people didn’t have air conditioning in their homes so the porch, whether it was screened in or the broad, columned veranda, became the gathering place for iced tea and gossip. There was never a need for an invitation either.  People just walked up to each other’s porches to say “hi” or catch up on the day’s events.


In Scott Cook’s “Evolution of the American Front Porch” he writes, “The porch also automatically allowed for a certain degree of community supervision of children in that any child playing on the street was in view of any adult sitting on a porch—and since neighbors were familiar with one another thanks to their porches, the idea of looking out for someone else’s child did not seem foreign.”  


That is so true!  I remember riding my bike once by my grandparents house and being shouted at by one of their neighbors to “watch for the traffic” ahead.  That’s just what neighbors did during those front porch days.    


I rarely see people sitting on the front porch anymore.  I’m sure the culture of fear has driven many inside with news of drive-by shootings and other crimes.  Of course many of us have transitioned inside our homes glued to the television, computers, or just spoiled by the air conditioning.   


I sure wish I knew what made my grandfather laugh in that one photo.   Perhaps it was someone who stopped by in the yard, or something I said to him moments before the photo was made.  Or maybe it was just his front porch state of mind knowing that all was right with the world standing beside me.  Quiet, tranquil, secure, and peaceful.  If only the world had a front porch like they did back then.  













Key to Happiness

What makes you happy?  I recently received an email with that question as the subject line.  The email was actually an advertisement for a week-long vacation cruise to the Bahamas, but it got me to thinking about my current state of happiness.   As a kid I remember singing the song: 

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…If you’re happy and you know it, your face will surely show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” 

Pharrell Williams hit song “Happy” has sold millions of copies.  He also encourages us to, “clap along if you feel like a room without a roof”.

I don’t see many people clapping as they go about their daily lives.  In fact, on a recent trip to the grocery store, I made it a point to count the number of people with smiles on their faces.  I came up with 3.  


The subject of happiness is nothing new.  Our forefathers talked about the pursuit of it in Declaration of Independence.  Today, there are hundreds of books, movies, and music out all to makes us feel happy, but the pursuit of happiness isn’t easy.  

I think we can all agree that more money and materialistic goods in no way guarantee a happy life.  My mom used to say, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side”.  There is the assumption that having children, getting a new job, or having the “right” friends will also equate to increased happiness, but the results are not always favorable.  

Some research has shown that the tendency to be happy is inherited and that not everyone has a sunny disposition, but there are things we can do to bring more joy into our lives.  

In the book, The How of Happiness, writer Sonja Lyubomirsky states that 50% of our happiness is genetically determined, 10% is affected by circumstances, and the remaining 40% is subject to self-control.  

In other words there are things we can do to put ourselves on a path to happiness.  Here’s a few examples:  

* Forgiving those who do us wrong.  Bitterness only leads to more anger and frustration.  

* Being grateful.  It’s proven that being grateful improves satisfaction.  

* Don’t be self-centered.  Helping others improves our own self-esteem and can set us on a path of happiness.  

* Don’t compare.  Constantly comparing ourselves to people who are smarter, wealthier, or better looking, won’t increase our happiness level. 

I’m not going to argue, that email I received is tempting.  A Caribbean vacation cruise sure sounds good right about now however I do believe in addition to the list of things above we can also spread happiness to those around us.  

The latest happiness research from Stanford University, the University of Houston, and Harvard Business School shows that to achieve an increase in happiness, people need to establish concrete, attainable goals aimed at helping other people. 

The study suggests setting out daily to make people smile.  A simple goal that is attainable within 24 hours.  I tried it and it worked!  Rather than deciding that you will help the less fortunate, decide to donate two bags of groceries to a food pantry every week.  

I realize I can’t change the world, but I can donate my time and resources to local organizations like the Bethlehem Food Pantry or the Union Mission.  

If we each set out make the world a better place one small step at a time, our happiness meters are bound to climb. After all, that’s something money can’t buy.