Spring Has Sprung!

For a guy with a blog title that includes the idea of “speaking out”, I sure have been quiet lately. I keep saying I’m going to post more frequently on the little “Speaking Out” forum, but stuff keeps getting in the way. Today, it’s raining. The weatherman says it’s going to rain pretty much all week, so I have a few extra moments to jot down a few thoughts.

Spring has definitely sprung down here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The dreary skies and water soaked ground isn’t allowing the beauty of spring to shine just yet, but it’s here. Of course, my yard is already knee-high in places with weeds. Or is that “wildflowers”? Yeah, wildflowers!

I did get out for a little bit this past Saturday afternoon to shoot some photos. One of my favorite places is the old POW Camp out in the woods of north Harrison County. Pretty little lake, some interesting revetments of some kind left over from the WWII era, and supposedly an alligator (though I’ve never seen one!). Airey Lake just over in Stone County is a great little spot too. It’s at one end of the Tuxachanie Trail, some 22 miles of hiking trail. I’ve walked some of it from both ends, but 22 miles is a bit much for me to walk! Boy Scouts like to camp there a lot, and some of my Mississippi Gulf Coast Photography Club friends love it for taking photos of stars.

So to give you a little idea of just how pretty these places are, here are a few photos I took this past Saturday. If you have a chance to visit, I think you’d like both these places a lot. They are both popular for picnickers and campers, and if you want a place to take photos with great water reflections, either lake will do quite nicely.

These first shots are from the old POW Camp:

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The next photos are from Airey Lake:

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Here’s hoping you will enjoy the spring weather, even if it’s raining at your house today. Despite being behind on mowing the yard, I have done some work around the place already. I planted three trees! I’ve got flowers in the ground (at least some – the front flower bed is due for a total remake!). I even planted some elephant ears! I sure hope they grow. For some reason, I just like those things.

Go do your part to make your little corner of the world a prettier place. Spring is the time to cooperate with nature and get things growing. It’s a fantastic world God has given us.

Get A Hobby!

Time flies, doesn’t it? It’s also easy to become negligent! I have personified “lazy” when it comes to this blog. Months have come and gone and I haven’t written a thing here. Not that I haven’t written anything, just not here. So, let me re-enter the fray with a little suggestion: get a hobby.

Back in the spring of 2014, I decided to buy myself a digital camera. Years ago, I used to take lots of photos with a Minolta SLR. Got pretty good at it. Then came marriage and children, and those who took photos back then will remember that film got expensive, as did getting it developed. So, I dropped photography. Other than a few snapshots with a point-and-shoot, I took few photos.

Last year, I invested in a Nikon (save it, you Canon freaks ;-) ). Great little camera. It can do 10 times what my old camera could do. I also joined a local photography club. Well, “club” is questionable. We have no official meetings, no dues, no officers, etc. It’s a loosely organized club based around a Facebook page. Some of us locals do get together occasionally for “group shoots” where we all gather somewhere and take pictures together. Sometimes we have “models”, people who will stand still for a few minutes while the rest of us wrestle with our settings to get a shot! But we share knowledge and expertise, learn a lot, practice, and improve our ability to take decent photos. Great fun, and we’ve got some fantastically talented photographers, even some pros who are always ready to give guidance or helpful tips.

It’s been years since I’ve enjoyed anything quite so much. It’s something very different from my everyday world. I get to know and enjoy lots of people I probably would not have met otherwise. I’m learning new things, and producing some pretty nifty photos, even if I say so!

So, why should you get a hobby. Some of the reasons are in what I already wrote, but let me give you a short list of benefits;

  • It reduces stress and provides positive relaxation
  • It gets your brain working, exercising mentally, to keep you sharp
  • It provides a sense of fulfillment different from your daily life
  • It gives opportunity for making new friends and acquaintances
  • It’s an opportunity to become helpful to others
  • It’s fun, and there should be more fun in life
  • It causes you to get up, get out, and get involved
  • It can connect you with young and old, which always broadens your perspective
  • It makes your real work more enjoyable because you’re rested and fresh

You don’t have to be a photographer. Of course, if you’d like to be, I can suggest a nifty photo club. It doesn’t really matter. Be a woodworker, become an artist, whatever. Find others who enjoy the same activity and get involved with them. I’ll leave you with a recent photo I took just to say that here’s a tangible explanation why I enjoy what I do.

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The Beauty of the Mississippi Coast

It’s one of those well-kept secrets. Even people from Mississippi don’t know about it. I’m referring to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Yes, Hurricane Katrina did major damage, but the communities along the coast are well on their way back to recovery. Are there things to do and places to see still missing? Yes. But you would do yourself a favor to drop in on the coast to see for yourself.

Want just a few photos to whet your appetite? Here you go.

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Attention Mississippi Republican Party

I’ve hesitated writing about this simply because I’ve been pretty ticked off. I’m referring to the recent primary elections here in Mississippi. Down here on the coast, the only one that really mattered much to me was the Republican primary for Senator. Thad Cochran, long-time Senator from Mississippi was running against Chris McDaniel, an upstart newcomer who (in the opinion of some) is a bit controversial. Yes, there was another guy, but he didn’t really count.

It should have been just a normal primary election. Ah, but this is politics! I should have been ready. In the primary election, McDaniel actually got more votes than either of the other candidates, including Thad Cochran! The problem was that McDaniel didn’t get to the 51% mark, so that required a runoff between him and Cochran. This is where it gets interesting.

If you’re really interested in the details, you can read up on the news reports, but here’s my summary. The old-guard Republicans were evidently shocked at the primary results. Instead of allowing Mississippi’s registered Republicans to choose the candidate they wanted, the party chose to enlist the help of Democrats! There was a concerted effort to get Democrats to cross party lines and vote for Thad Cochran. It worked! In the runoff election, Cochran won, defeating McDaniel. I’ve read somewhere that if you remove the Democrat votes, McDaniel would have won the election by eight points, give or take a little.

So what’s the problem? Call me idealistic. Call me picky. Call me whatever you like, but if we’re going to have primaries where Democrats (voters!) get to choose their candidate and Republicans (voters) get to choose theirs, then let’s do it that way. Instead, we get an election where Mississippi’s registered Republicans didn’t elect their candidate. Democrats chose both theirs and the Republican candidate. One could fairly say that the Republicans don’t really have a candidate this time around. There will be the legitimate Democrat-chosen candidate (Childers), and the “illegitimate” Democrat-chosen Republican candidate.

So, here’s my heads up for the Mississippi Republican Party. Since all I have to choose from are two candidates chosen by the Democrats, I think I may as well just vote for the Democrat. I mean, why mess around with Thad Cochran who couldn’t get Republican voters to keep him in office? Since we’re going to allow the Democrats to decide the candidates, why not just go with them all the way?

Some will say, “Well, McDaniel wasn’t really the best candidate anyway.” I don’t know, maybe that’s right, maybe not. But we’ve usually allowed the voters to do the electing. That didn’t happen this time, at least the way it should have happened.

Thad Cochran has been up in Washington a long time. I think he’s been an overall good Senator for Mississippi. But everybody knows he’s going to retire. McDaniel offered a viable alternative. There was nobody else among the Republicans who either wanted the job or offered something the people wanted. If the Republican Party didn’t want McDaniel then throw him out of the party. He may now run as an Independent or a write-in candidate, and could result in dividing the Republican vote enough to get the Democrat, Childers, elected anyway!

If Cochran wins the election in the fall, then chooses to retire before the end of his term, Mississippi’s governor gets to appoint his replacement. Likely, it will be one of the old-guard Republicans who chose to not even run for the office. I don’t know about others, but I’m about tired of the games and tricks. No wonder Republicans are gaining a reputation as the party of, “No”, and viewed as the party of do-nothing.

Unfortunately, I’ve developed an attitude about politics and politicians. Especially on the national level, I do not believe there is a single politician who cares two-cents about me, my family, my friends, neighbors or anybody. All they care about is power, position and money. That’s it. They will sell me down the river in a heartbeat for any one of those three things. Call me jaded. Call me pessimistic. Call me when there’s a reason to think differently.

So, this is just a heads up to the Mississippi Republican Party. Right now I’m still a registered Republican. I might not be for long.

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My Birthday Present To Myself!

I know! I’ve neglected this blog for too long, but I have a good excuse. I’ve been learning a new skill, and it has everything to do with the birthday present I bought myself. Somewhere in my late 50s, I decided to learn how to play the guitar. I bought a cheap acoustic and began the ordeal of learning chords, how to strum, and then how to make it sound somewhat like music. I should have learned when I was much younger. I managed to play a handful of chords.

Thankfully, most of the music from the 1960s can be played with three or four chords. It also helps to learn to play “cheat chords.” No, it’s not as good as the real thing, but it works! But I really wanted to do a bit better, so a friend suggested I learn how to play using an open D tuning on my guitar, and maybe learn to use a slide. My son-in-law donated a nicer guitar than what I had, and I found a real, honest-to-goodness bottleneck slide at a local music store. And yes, that works! So I was getting a bit better, and playing a wider range. That open D tuning can even be played barring all the chords! But, it still wasn’t really what I wanted to do.

Browsing the Internet, I came across a lot of options for musical instruments. Dulcimers looked interesting, and a guy from church had one. He loaned it to me and the within an hour after I got it home, I was playing tunes. Not great, but playing. Searching more, I ran across a video with a guy playing a zither. “Zither” is sort of a family name for a host of instruments that include dulcimers. This one is made by a guy named Tony Meeks, owner of the Zither Music Company.

They make a nifty line of zithers right there in Bonham, Texas! I decided that was the instrument for me, and since my birthday was coming up, I decided to give myself a present. I ordered myself a zither! You can choose from various models, different wood, and a few other customizations.

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The photo above is a photo of my custom made Zither! Cherry wood with oak accents, with black mesquite fretboard. It’s really quite beautiful to look at, and even more beautiful to play. Tony Meeks assured me that his Zither was easy to play. The backstory relating how it came about is interesting. You can read about that here. If I can play a Zither, anybody can play it. It’s just fun!

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That photo was taken right after I got it. I was learning where the notes are on the fretboard. While it looks like a small guitar, it’s not. It frets like a dulcimer, with the strings upside down (meaning the bass or drone strings are on top, and the melody strings are on bottom). That makes it play more like a guitar You need to keep in mind that as I write this, I’ve been playing less than a month. I don’t read music, so everything I play has to be a melody in my head. I’ve a long way to go before I’ve mastered the mechanics of fingering the frets to get the right notes at the right time, but I think I’ve done quite well.

A Zither won’t be for everybody. But anyone who, like me, waited until they were “too old” to learn a new trick, would be pleased with this little gem. I get hours of pleasure out of it. You can play real tunes without much of the frustration that comes from guitars. While it basically plays like a dulcimer, it will give you a greater ranger of artistry than a regular dulcimer. I decided to post a little practice session from this afternoon. It’s my version of “Like A Bird Without Wings,” followed by “Danny Boy,” “California Blue,” and “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”.

Yes, there are a some mistakes in there. Yes, it could be played better. But how many people of my age do you think could play this after working with an instrument for a month? I’ve talked to Tony Meeks on the phone a few times, and he even sent photos of my Zither as it was being made. He’s a great guy and seems excited when his customers love their Zithers!

People who are much better musicians could take this little instrument and do a lot more with it! So, thanks to Tony and his crew. I highly recommend the Zither Music Company. Do yourself a favor. Buy yourself a birthday present.

Click on the link HERE for the MP3 file.

Get A Life!

I interact with a lot of people. Some are in-person, real-life folks. Others are online connections, resulting from articles, blog posts, my web sites, email, Facebook and more. I don’t claim to know everything that people are struggling with, but I can tell you many of these folks need to get a life.

What I’m about to list isn’t intended to be harsh or overly critical. I’m sure it will come across that way, but sometimes people need to hear things that wake them up. Here are a few reasons a great many people need to get a life:

  • They are lazy and have little if any accomplishments
  • They spend their time thinking only second-hand thoughts
  • They waste hours every day playing digital games or browsing the Internet
  • They have only negative, critical things to say, often targeting other people
  • They are bored, but have no energy or imagination to change things
  • They are stuck in a “gimme-gimme-gimme” lifestyle
  • All they can do is complain; they never create, fix, or contribute positively

Something must change or these individuals will only grow worse, and their experience of life will decline.

Here’s a short list of things anybody can do to get a life. It might not appear to be the life you dreamed about, but I’m talking first steps here. You’ve got to start somewhere, and if you start off too big, you will get discouraged and revert back to where you are. I think these ideas can help.

  1. Spend a week, refusing to criticize or complain about anything. Sound easy? Give it a try. The idea is to help break or weaken the habit of negative thinking. During this week, just try to become aware. Take note of people around you that do “have a life” and see what they’re doing, how they think, how they deal with life. Write it down if you need to, but the big job here is to stop the negativity.
  2. Turn off the TV, the radio, and other distractions. Yes. I mean turn them off. It’s amazing how powerfully entertainment captures our minds and hearts. Sometimes people can’t live their own lives because they’re living through the stories found in music, TV shows, movies, or even the news. Turn these off during that same week you’re refusing to criticize or complain. This is all about refocusing.
  3. Exercise! Don’t overdo it. But get outside if it’s warm enough. If not, go to the gym or just your den will do. Get your body moving, some blood pumping. Get some air in your lungs. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel. If the sun is shining, get at least 15 – 20 minutes a day of BROTS (beneficial rays of the sun!).
  4. Make an assesment and identify the things you can do at least half-way well. You don’t have to be the best in the world. The idea is not to compete with anybody, just identify what you can do. It might be a skill of some sort. You might just like to visit and talk to people. It doesn’t matter what it is you come up with, just remind yourself of things you can do with some degree of success.
  5. Find somebody to help. Such people are everywhere, especially among the old and the very young. Find someone that matches up with whatever you identified in step 4. You know where this is going, don’t you. Yep. The idea is to take what you can do, even half-way well, and find somebody who could benefit from it.
  6. Go help that person. Volunteer. That’s an important word. A volunteer doesn’t expect a thing in return for what they do. They are giving of themselves. The reward is in the doing. Go give yourself away just a little. This doesn’t have to be a major, life-shifting thing. At first, just dabble at it. Let it grow slowly.
  7. Stop!  I said not to overdo it. Take a break. For a day or so, turn on the TV or radio. Get back on the Internet. But don’t return to this life-sapping stuff for more than a couple of days. Start back at step 1. Do it again.

If you think you have a life just because you’re busy, you’re wrong. Lots of busy people would give anything for a real life. Busy is not necessarily living. Dull and boring are obvious signs of the need for a life. You’ll really know if you need to get a life if you can make a sincere assessment of yourself and come away knowing that whatever it is you have, it’s not a real life.

The signs are a feeling of emptiness, lonliness, failure, just going nowhere. It doesn’t require a psychiatrist or a counselor to know you need to get a life. If you find yourself constantly harping on others but not doing anything positive yourself, you need to get a life. If you’re stuck in a do-nothing place, get a life. You know what I mean. Don’t overcomplicate it.

I wish you well. I do. If you try this and it works, don’t feel that you need to come back and thank me. Instead, find somebody else that needs to get a life and pass it on.

Your Heart’s Dissatisfaction

I do a lot of reading. I’m thinking especially right now of online articles and blogs. I’m also on Facebook, so that means I interact with several hundred people every week, including two or three “groups” that are somewhat exclusive in nature, and private in terms of the discussion that happens. I’m slowly coming to an unhappy conclusion, that actually puts me in the same category as the conclusion: there are an awful lot of dissatisfied people out there!

Probably the vast majority of my reading sources are religiious or political in nature. I’m including in this a number of individuals who might not think of themselves as occupying either of those realms, but I put them in there because most of what they have to say is either religiously or politically oriented. I would also suggest that even for the “average” person (whatever that is!), religion or politics is more important to their daily lives than they suspect.

What I think I hear from a great many people is that are just dissatisfied, unhappy, uneasy, incomplete, with something lacking in their lives that keeps them from experiencing their days without the need to complain, accuse, blame, or otherwise create a fuss.

An article by Michael J. Formica in Psychology Today, suggests that it’s our desire for “more” that is at play.

Basically, this is a conversation about stuff. Not just material stuff, but all sorts of stuff – intellectual, emotional, social, etc. – all of our human stuff. When we collect some stuff, we, quite naturally, want more stuff. It is this desire for more that traps us in our own dissatisfaction, because we are always grasping for that more-ness. Quite a conundrum isn’t it, as the American Way is, after all, all about bigger, better, stronger, faster, yes?

I’m sure this is right, at least to some degree. We’re forever trying to gather for ourselves whatever it is that we think will make us happy and fulfilled. The problem with that is that human beings seem to be afflicted with a drive that is both positive and negative. It’s positive in that this drive for more creates motivation, and motivation is often the catylist for great achievements, inventions, new and better ways to do things. But it’s negative in the sense that more is never enough.

Michael J. Formica went on to say:

The problem isn’t really the stuff. It’s the desire for the stuff, and the anxiety that desire provokes when unmet, creating the dissatisfaction. But how do you get rid of your desire?

That is at least somewhat in agreement with what the Bible says about money:

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. — 1 Timothy 6:10 (NASB95)

And, he points out what I’ve already mentioned, that we never seem to find a place where we’ve acquired enough:

In the best of all possible worlds, we would operate with the maxim, “This much is enough.” Well, we don’t; instead, we fairly consistently pursue that elusive more-ness.

Really! We should think about this. How much money is enough?  I have no opposition to any person earning as much as possible. But how much does one person need? How much does one family need? Could you live on $50,000.00 a year? Perhaps, depending on where you live, and you could actually be quite comfortable. But if you don’t think that’s enough, then what figure represents enough?  $100,000.00?  $1,000,000.00?  If you’re starting off near the bottom, you think that $50,000.00 looks pretty good, but as you near your goal, it suddenly takes on a less favorable shine.

I used money in the paragraph above, but it doesn’t have to be money, or any kind of tangible thing. Some people keep seeking degrees and academic status, others dose themselves on a constantly increasing amount of attention or fame. We might think this is only a problem on Wall Street or Hollywood, but it’s as alive and well on the street where you live, and on the small screen of your life.

Dissatisfaction makes a person negative. It’s one thing for ambition and motivation to drive us forward to succeed, it’s another to get up every day and feel the oppressive weight of “not enough”.  This is especially true when dissatisfaction turns us into monsters who blame others for the way we feel.

In the political world, ask a Republican or a Democrat why they’re dissatisfied with the way things are going. One will blame the other. Want to solve that problem? Create a Tea Party. Oops. No, they just point the finger at the other two. Want to talk religion? Ask young people why they are leaving the church. Answer? Often it’s the fault of those pesky old folks who just don’t “get it”.

You can enlarge this as much as you like. Why is one race of people dissatisfied? It’s the fault of some other race of people. Nations at odds with one another? Same answer. On and on.

Why am I dissatisfied? It’s probably your fault!  I will say this about dissatisfaction. If I have conversations with 10 people during the day, at least seven of those ten will be about dissatisfaction.

I really need to be careful here.  You see, there are things one person can do that so terribly, awfully, catestrophically affect others that the blame does rest with them. I’m not discounting the idea that bad people do bad things, and when they do, the results can have a lifetime’s effect. But so much of a person’s dissatisfaction rests on their own shoulders.

Someone may read this and respond by saying, “I’m not dissatisfied. This doesn’t apply to me.” To which, I say that’s great. But let me urge you to pay attention to yourself. How often do you talk about others in a negative way? How much of your view of the world shaped by the faulty behavior of others? I’m not asking you to be unreasonable. Politicians make bad decsions. Religious leaders can preach some damaging ideas. I’m asking you to consider how much your own desire for “more” and “better” is actually ruining your enjoyment of life.

This is not a light-hearted issue. If deep self-examination is more than you can manage right now, put this off until next week. But don’t put it off long.