31 May, 2013

The Popcorn Connection

The summer blockbuster season is here, and although I'm not a fanatic I do enjoy a good movie. I don't go to a lot of them, but I do like movies. And the popcorn.

I especially like the popcorn and have been quoted as saying that the quality of the popcorn is sometimes more important than the quality of the movie. So I am not a purist, not a connoisseur, and I am certainly not much of a critic.

I have a vague recollection of the first time I went to see a motion picture, but I do not remember if there were popcorn. Probably not. The movie was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea which was released in late December of 1954 and is easily found on television. I was six. I'm sure it was probably in the early spring of 1955, and I saw it with my father and brother in Norfolk, Virginia at the Center Theater.

The Center Theater was once called The Arena and is where I met the Cisco Kid at an even younger age. Prior to that it was home to USO shows during World War II and today is the Harrison Opera House. I don't recall my reaction to the movie or much of anything other than that it happened.

Perhaps there were other movies, but the next one I remember starred Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender released in 1956. I saw it in Hutchinson, Kansas where we had moved in the fall of 1955. I don't recall the name of the theater, but I noted that the building was still there when I visited a few years ago. I don't remember popcorn either, but I do remember they had these huge (to a child) sour dill pickles for a nickel. Jailhouse Rock followed in 1957. Elvis was big. Old Yeller too - oh, the tears.

I remember seeing Bridge on the River Kwai (released in 1957) with my mother and brother in Little Rock when we were visiting my grandparents. I'm guessing this was during the summer of 1958 as we moved ourselves back to Virginia from Kansas. I say that because the ugliness of September's 1957 integration of Central High was already history, and my grandparents lived just around the corner from that school.

Now I was a teenager and living in Virginia Beach. Movies became more central to my/our lives, but this still antedates mall-based multiplexes. I don't recall those until the late 1960s, and then there might have been only two screens. My favorite theater was the Beach Theater at the corner of 25th Street and Atlantic Avenue - across the street from the ocean and my Norwegian Lady. Further south and just off Atlantic was the Bayne Theater, but it wasn't quite as nice. Neither serves as a cinema today The best deal in town was on the navy base where tickets cost one thin dime!

The projectors ran continuously in those days with features repeating every two hours if possible, and the between time was filled with cartoons, previews, and newsreels. And popcorn. West on Virginia Beach Blvd. (31st Street) back toward my house was the Virginia Beach Drive-in (now gone). The only time I clearly remember going there was the time my father told me I couldn't. 'Nuf said. Poitier in Lilies of the Field.

Anyway I miss the old large screen movie palaces. I don't miss the popcorn, but that would be because I still buy it. I can't imagine going to the movies without it although it has gotten expensive. As for the movie itself, I have a soft spot for romantic comedy and enjoy science fiction, but it doesn't really matter. What is clear is that I don't like to be made to think a lot by movies - although I will go sometimes just to allow high quality to wash over me when it's there.

For the most part, however, I prefer to go to the cinema to escape reality rather than to engage it. A film like District 9 was incredibly well done, but it forced me to think about an issue to which I was already sympathetic, and those who most needed the message left the theater still thinking it was a film about aliens from outer space. Sigh. I'm not sure which is more depressing - how the movie made me feel or my assessment of many of my compatriots.

So - most of the time I just want to be entertained.
I'm always early, and ...
     Plain - none of that flavored stuff. Check.
     Salted with butter. Check.
     Cherry Coke. Check.
     Napkins. Check.
     Phone off. Check.

Now, sit back and enjoy the show.
Last weekend it was Star Trek.


30 May, 2013

{picture perfect} Urquhart

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness
Scotland, 2005
Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

29 May, 2013

My Anamnesis Cloud

I have frequently referred to and on occasion have discussed my rather remarkable medical history. In a moment of unexplainable reflection, I tried to make a list of the conditions I've had, the specialists I see, the medicines I take, and the treatments I've undergone. I then entered that list through one of those cloud generators that are so popular today.

Preliminary result follows. Stand back.


28 May, 2013

Just Stop It

Just stop it. Not Memorial Day - but just stop adding other things into Memorial Day.

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day honors men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military and has its roots in the years following the Civil War.

It is not a day to honor the military - those who are currently serving. That's Armed Forces Day.

It's not a day to honor veterans - those who have served. That's Veterans Day.

It's not a day to honor first responders. That will be National First Responder Appreciation Day should it get approved.

It's not for any of those, and when we conflate these celebrations, we diminish our remembrance of the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our freedoms. Americans have enough trouble staying focused on the right things, and being sloppy with our many remembrances just enables that negligence.

I know that yesterday President Obama said "As we go about our daily lives, we must remember that our countrymen are still serving, still fighting, still putting their lives on the line for all of us." We should, but that's the other 364 days.

Yesterday was Memorial Day, a day to remember "the depth of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name."

Let's not forget. That would be tragic.

Here endeth my rant.

27 May, 2013

On The Road Again, Part Deux

About two weeks ago I reposted a list of about two dozen places one should visit in America, places that would help anyone feel the "essence" of the country. I deliberately included only man-made sites in that list. Today I offer a second list but one dedicated to some of the awe inspring natural wonders of this great country. In no particular order.

Niagara Falls. Three of them actually and located on the Niagara River which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Averaging about 4 million cubic feet of water per minute. Man, that's a lot of water.

Outer Banks. A 200 mile ribbon of sand beginning in the southeastern corner of Virginia Beach and stretching southward to form narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Encompasses two active volcanoes: Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most massive volcano.

Maine Tides. Especially in Cobscook Bay, notorious for ripping tides and powerful currents. The surges cause a rare phenomenon: reversing falls. Near Pembroke, the rapids that course over the rocky bottom actually reverse direction with the tide. Boulders on the bottom, along with the narrow passageway between the shores of the mainland and Falls Island, form a bottleneck that causes a rise in the depth of water on the near side of the falls. The tide rise up to 21 feet every 6 hours!! That's 21 feet up and down ...

Grand Canyon. A steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in Arizona. It's is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and attains a depth of 6,000 feet.

Bonneville Salt Flats. A densely-packed salt pan in northwestern Utah that is a remnant of the Pleistocene Lake Bonneville. It's at its most impressive if you enter from the west, descending from the mountains on I-80.

Mount Rainier. The highest mountain in Washington and the Cascade Range at 14,411 feet. On clear days it dominates the southeastern horizon in most of the Seattle-Tacoma area. On days of exceptional clarity, it can also be seen from as far away as Portland, Oregon, and Victoria, British Columbia. It's also one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

Bridalveil Falls. 617 feet of water cascading into the Yosemite Valley - although in the dry season or when it's windy, the water doesn't always reach the ground.

Natural Bridge. A Virginia geological formation in which Cedar Creek has carved out a gorge in the mountainous limestone terrain, forming an arch 215 feet high with a span of 90 feet. Once owned by Jefferson and surveyed by Washington.

Old Faithful. A cone geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Eruptions occur about every 90 minutes today and can shoot as much as 8,400 gallons of boiling water to a height of 185 feet. These eruptions can last as long as 5 minutes.

Hubbard Glacier. A tidewater glacier in Alaska, it stretches for 76 miles.

Great Salt Lake. So cool - just outside Salt Lake City, of course, but even cooler if you swim in it. Depending on its level, it's up to 8 times as salty as the ocean. Go soon - it's shrinking.

Barringer Crater. Created 50,000 years ago east of Flafstaff, Arizona by a nickel-iron meteorite about 50 meters across that impacted at a speed of several kilometers per second. Rim to rim - 3/4 mile.

Redwood Forests. Along the northern California coast - tall trees, really tall trees. The tallest in the park is "Hyperion" at 380 feet.

Monument Valley. A region of the Colorado Plateau characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, the largest reaching 1,000 feet above the valley floor. Near the Four Corners area.

Two Ocean Pass. Wyoming. The only place in the country where a tributary breaks off into two directions – one towards the Pacific Ocean and the other towards the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. If a fish were to follow this path, he could swim from one side of the country to the other. He'd be tired, but he could do it.

Then there are all the places that are hard to ... well ... place. The Mississippi River, The Smoky Mountains, The Great Plains, The Everglades, The Badlands, etc.

I have to admit I have made it to only about half of these, but there is time. And I've got just the car for sightseeing. Vrooom!!!

What a country! Who's up for a road trip?

26 May, 2013

The Car Crash

A priest and a rabbi are in a car crash, and it's pretty bad. Both of their cars are totaled, but neither one of them is hurt.

After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi says, "So you're a priest. That's interesting; I'm a rabbi. Wow, just look at our cars! There's nothing left to either one of them, but we're unhurt. This must be a sign from God that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace."

The priest replies, "Oh, yes, I agree. It's a miracle that we survived and are here together." "And here's another miracle," says the rabbi. "My car is destroyed, but this bottle of wine didn't break. Surely God wants us to drink the wine to help celebrate our good fortune," he says, handing the bottle to the priest.

The priest nods in agreement, opens the wine, drinks half of it, and hands it back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes it and puts the cap back on.

"Aren't you going to have any? asks the priest.

"Not right now," says the rabbi. "I think I'm going to wait until after the police make their report."
Author Unknown   

25 May, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

24 May, 2013

Mighty Finn - Update #15

Here we go! Life is such a trip. Wow!

I had a nice day at the park. I love spring.
And it's never too soon to have a dinosaur tee.

I want YOU! Come on down.

I love my mommy, and she loves me.

Grandma is visiting, and that 
usually means a new toy. :)

It can't be all fun though. Sometimes
you need give things some thought.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I bought some new shoes.
This walking is SO much better than crawling.

There's always time for some silliness,
and being silly keeps you  young.

Okay - last one in is a a rotten egg.

23 May, 2013


They say the third time is a charm. After the last time I almost died, I became quite reflective about my journey through life.

I bumped into new friends who listened in new ways to my stories. They helped me listen in new ways too. With newly found contexts, barriers began to fall, and I was better able to explore some of the previously less accessible areas in my mind.

It was increasingly clear to me that my scattered scars - and there were many - had accumulated in the same way a gradual drip in a cave eventually results in something far too great to ignore, and those scars now demanded attention.

It also became clear that in combination these scars had taken a toll greater than I once thought. I saw it reflected everywhere. A dislike of any photographic image but especially those of my neglected left, routine questioning of my wholeness, repeated requests for affirmation, a surrendered sense of symmetry, and even my frequent avoidance of needed help or accommodation were all evidence of wounds having yet to heal.

I'd like to think I got it - that with renewed determination, with fresh perspective, and with newly welcomed help, the damage could be repaired, and the scars could finally begin to fade.

Have they? I don't know, but after a period where I thought so, I am now less certain. Ask me again next year. Life is such a work in progress.

22 May, 2013

{essential truths} Joyride

One should never pass up
the opportunity to go for a joyride.

21 May, 2013


Originally posted in June of 2011.

Not so long ago, I bought some new pants. It wasn’t easy.

It's not that the process wasn’t easy; I just had trouble deciding it was time to buy new pants. It's been years, after all, and it seems I’m in that between sizes no man’s land. The ones I bought are a little too big, but I feared the next size down would be uncomfortably snug.

On top of that, my weight has been fluctuating. Not much, but this is after 40 pounds of very steady weight loss. Soon it will start to go back down again - or at least I hope so – but these fluctuations had made it even harder to decide what to do and what size to buy. If I begin to lose immediately, then I should have gone with the smaller size. If not, I made the correct choice. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

I like these pants. They speak to me. Really. In the store, they spoke to me. They said, “We’re the right color.” They said, “We have no pleats, just as you wanted.” And they said, “We’re on sale.” They spoke a lot.

And they continue to speak. As I put them on this morning, they spoke to me. Yes, they did, and I wasn’t hallucinating. Not this time anyway. I hadn’t noticed in the store, but right there on the inside of the waistband – on the right side – it says “ONE LEG AT A TIME.” Shut up! How thoughtful is that?! (It has occurred to me, however, that my Scots ancestors didn't need that advice.)

I suppose the phrase could have some deep philosophical wisdom - some fundamental truth - but I’m not buying it. It’s quite clear what we have here is a mini-user’s manual. And not a minute too soon. Far too many have been injured trying to pull up their pants after putting both legs in at once. And what of those who bounced from the bed into the air and attempted to spear both legs into their pants as they descended. Oh, the humanity.

Everyone - Thom included - ultimately owes Dockers our sincere thanks for taking the lead on this; other manufacturers will surely follow suit. Soon we can expect all of our pants to have instructions on the right. Not only that, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the left used for daily affirmations. All caps, bold face, phrases to make us feel better about ourselves. Maybe a "YES YOU CAN" for those who bought the smaller size and are struggling to fasten them at the waist.

Can user's manuals for each of the other articles of clothing be far behind? I think not.

20 May, 2013

I'm Touched

It is such an odd perception, especially considering my left hand has no sensory abilities. It has happened more than once, however, and with different people and under different circumstances.

On those occasions, I have been moved to tears merely by someone taking my left hand. There is remarkable power in such moments, and unaccustomed to sensation, my hand doesn't anticipate the warmth or the power it sometimes finds in that touch.

It's clear that my hand has little to do with it. Had my eyes been closed, I would not have known even that my hand was being touched - much less have perceived the warmth offered from a healthier hand. My mind is supplying that perception in the absence of sensation.

We have wrestled with mind-body distinctions for many centuries, certainly since Descartes 400 years ago, but you can find early threads of that discussion in Classical Greek thought. Are mind and body separate things? If so, does mind influence body or vice versa? Or both? If they're separate, how do they stay synchronized? What if they don't? Maybe mind is simply what the brain does? Let me know when you figure it out.

At any rate, on these occasions my mind is doing for me what my body cannot. It supplies the perception of warmth which is amplified by the knowledge that there is another who cares. The perception is one of psychological as well as physical warmth. Ultimately I am profoundly moved by that.

19 May, 2013

Bats In The Belfry

Three pastors were having lunch in a diner.

One said, “You know, since summer started, I’ve been having trouble with bats in my loft and attic at church. I’ve tried everything -- noise, spray, cats -- nothing seems to scare them away.”

Another said, ”Me, too. I’ve got hundreds living in my belfry and in the narthex attic. I’ve even had the place fumigated, and they won’t go away.”

The third said, “I baptized all mine and made them members of the church. Haven’t seen one back since!”
Author Unknown   

18 May, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

17 May, 2013

Notice To All Patrons

A long semester is over. My grades are submitted. I purchased this small poster in Colonial Williamsburg decades ago. It summarizes well how I'm feeling.

16 May, 2013

{essential truths} Business

It may not seem right at first,
but what others think of you
is none of your business.

15 May, 2013

On The Road Again

The travel season is soon upon us and, today I'm thinking about travel - mostly about places I've been to but a couple I haven't. Yet anyway; it'll take a while longer. We are a large country, and that scale is something many international visitors don't quite appreciate at first.

Almost 20 years ago, one of my daughters was playing host to a French penpal. We had agreed to the visit with the understanding that our vacation plans would not change. We drove from central New York to my mother's home in Virginia Beach, ten hours or so. The next day we drove to Palm City in Florida to stay with cousins, fourteen hours or so. Within 48 hours of landing in the US, this unfortunate young French girl had ridden nearly 1400 miles over 24 hours. Had she driven 1400 miles from Paris, she could have been in Turkey or Russia or on the southern edge of the Sahara. All she saw here was a lot of I-95 and portions of nine states, a pretty thin slice of America.

But ... I digress. The topic is what should folks see - especially Americans - to understand who we are? I've identified about two dozen locations I think are essential or at least central to that goal. There are, of course, dozens more that could easily be added. I hope, dear reader, you will do so in your comments. Please note I'm focusing on things man created or did rather than Mother Nature.

1. Concord, MA. Sure, you could go into Boston and see Old North Church or Old Ironsides or even Plymouth Rock, but for my dollar, standing on Old North Bridge (newly rebuilt, of course) where we forced the Brits to retreat for the first time creates what I call "the feeling" - sort of an "Oh, wow. This is it." Or maybe it's a tingle. I don't know, but it happened there. Bring on the Revolution.

2. New York City, NY. So much to see here, but I mention it because of the Statue of Liberty. Melting pot. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free ..." While you're there, I suppose the Empire State Building or Broadway is worth a visit. Most important after Lady Liberty, however, is to take in a game at Yankee Stadium. Our national pastime, after all. Whether you love them or hate them is irrelevant; they are our most iconic team. Unfortunately, it will have to be in the new stadium - which is beautiful, but it's not the House that Ruth Built.

3. Philadelphia, PA. Our capital from 1790-1800. Independence National Historic Park - the Liberty Bell and Carpenter's Hall, but most importantly Independence Hall where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and adopted.

4. Gettysburg, PA. To drive or walk among the many fields that were part of this epic battle or to reflect on Lincoln's immortal address is profoundly moving. " ... take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion ... that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

5. Washington, DC. Lincoln Memorial - stand atop those steps and look eastward. Wow. I'm always thankful for what others have been given for my freedom when visting the World War Two Memorial - which you're looking at in the distance. John Kennedy's grave never fails to get to me, and climbing onto the huge lap of Einstein on Constitution Avenue always brings a smile. Way too much to see here. Way.

6. Colonial Williamsburg, VA. What a wonderful space and experience. If you're a history glutton, Jamestown and Yorktown are close by.

7. Kitty Hawk, NC. Ah, the Outer Banks and the Wright Brothers. The birthplace of aviation. Head a little farther south also and see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest in the US.

8. Savannah, GA. A wonderful city for walking and pausing in the many squares. Drink in that southern experience; life is like that. Box of chocolates, anyone?

9. St. Augustine, FL. 1565 - oldest city in the continental US. Forget Ponce and the Fountain of Youth, it's the Slave Market you need to see.

10. Orlando, FL. Of course, Walt Disney World. For this list, it's the Magic Kingdom, but it's not my favorite park. Pure America.

11. Atlanta, GA. Speaking of pure America, you're here to visit the World of Coca-Cola. It's a walk through American history - at least our history since 1886.

12. Nashville, TN. Find your spot on a bench and experience the Grand Ole Opry. It's no longer at the Ryman Auditorium, but it's still a good show - whether you like country or not.

13. St. Louis, MO. The Gateway Arch. Awesome even though the ride to the top is like getting into your dryer. Just incredible.

14. New Orleans, LA. Revel in the French Quarter and take a walk down Bourbon Street - but not during Mardi Gras. I suppose a look at Jackson Square or the Saint Louis Cathedral wouldn't hurt a bit. Maybe even ride a streetcar out to Garden District. Sorry though, the streetcar line to Desire Street is now a bus line.

15. St. Francisville, LA. Rosedown Plantation. The Old South. It's beautiful but troubling at the same time. While you're here, think of that Slave Market you saw earlier.

16. San Antonio, TX. The Alamo. 1836. Davy Crockett. Jim Bowie. Lt. Col. William "I shall never surrender or retreat" Travis. Shouldn't need to say any more.

17. Keystone, SD. On your way to Mt. Rushmore from Texas, be sure to notice the prairies your traveling through with their amber waves of grain. Deer and antelope playing. Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln - all larger than life.

18. Crow Agency, MT. Battle of Little Big Horn. Custer's Last Stand, yet somehow I feel bad for the Indians.

19. Santa Fe, NM. Visit Bandelier National Monument. Evidence of human occupation from about 10,000 years ago. View pueblo homesites, kivas, rock paintings, petroglyphs, and most impressively the cliff dwellings carved into the stone walls of the canyon about 900 years ago. There is powerful spirit in this place.

20. Tucson, AR. Why not? Visit the movie sets at Old Tucson where so many westerns were filmed. OK Pilgrims, you can almost see John Wayne everywhere you look. Get those wagons in a circle.

21. Boulder City, NV. Hoover Dam.

22. Las Vegas, NV. For no other reason than to drive down the strip at night. All glitz, little substance. Fun though.

23. Pasadena, CA. Could you manage to be there for the Rose Bowl Parade? You'll have to time it just right. And stay for the football game - it's the granddaddy of them all.

24. Hollywood, CA. The sign, the stars on the Walk of Fame, Grauman's Chinese Theater with all of those hand- and footprints in cement. Got some time? Drive right on to the Pacific and the Santa Monica Pier.

25. San Francisco, CA. It is such a thrill to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge. And back too - unless you want to see those giant redwoods or Napa Valley.

If you've made it this far, then you've made a good start at visiting many of the iconic symbols for America. Now start your trip anew but this time check out all the museums and regional foods. Take your time. Oh, and don't forget "the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth. It's only four hours from here."

Fill 'er up.

14 May, 2013

Minority Report

I wrote this piece a few of years ago, and I edit and repost it yearly as a reminder to myself. If some of you choose to come along on my journey, that is just icing on the cake.

They say I am disabled. I'm not sure I have ever felt that way, but they insist that, in fact, I have three disabilities. What some fail to appreciate is that there is a difference between having disabilities and feeling disabled, and it is a very important distinction.

It is true that my left arm and hand hang limp without movement, without sensation, without even kinesthetic awareness of existence. It is equally true that my heart with each life-giving beat completes only about a third of its expected mission. Then there is my diaphragm. Only the right half works ... so I can only partially perform that magical pull of oxygen into my lungs. My lung capacity is estimated at about 40% of "normal," and I use supplemental oxygen 24 fours a day.

Because of this, they say I am disabled. Yet I have never really known disability, and although scarred, I have continued to thrive. My scars, however, are perhaps different than most. They are not the overly visible scars of many with disability, the kind of scars that seduce so much unsought attention. No one ever added obstacles to my path because ... well, just because, I guess. My scars were - and still are for the most part - usually unnoticed, but as odd as it may sound, I would sometimes welcome a bit of attention, positive attention anyway. Although they would surely welcome a healing touch, these scars - for the most part - just want to tell their stories to willing listeners.

13 May, 2013

{picture perfect} Edinburgh

Can you hear me now?
Street Scene in Edinburgh, Scotland, 2005
Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

12 May, 2013

Good News, Bad News

One Sunday morning, the pastor came and announced to the congregation, "Praise the Lord. Today I have both good news and bad news."

"The good news is we have enough money to build a new church."

The congregation cheered, applauded, and broke into a worship song.

After everybody calmed down, the pastor continued, "The bad news, however, is that the money is still in your pockets."

There was deafening silence ...
Author Unknown   

11 May, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

10 May, 2013

The Trite Stuff

We all have them. It isn't the least bit unexpected. You know those days - the days when the usual is not going to be enough, the days when you simply need more to get through the day. You rarely know, of course, just what it is you need more of. Those are the days when you are asking yourself why this or why that. On some days your query is simply a plaintive "will it ever end." On other days you're singing AC/DC's Highway to Hell.

It's difficult to know what triggers "one of those days" - especially when the general conditions leading up to it have usually been in place for quite some time, but something happens to provoke such musing - a comment, a memo, a current event, a phone call, a political ad. Anything. And that's when the troubling thoughts begin to cascade.

I've had those days when I found myself more cautious about where I was attempting to go or what I intended to accomplish. On the worst of those days I was perhaps even fearful that my Perch in this world had somehow become less secure. In recent years I've learned to be far more mellow about these occasions.

There are lots of ways to deal with such moments. There is an initial coping strategy of which I am a big fan. It's called assertive delay. In lay terms: take a moment. Take control by postponing action until you're ready. It works wonders and allows you opportunity to organize your thoughts for a more productive rebound.

During that moment you've taken, it would also be good to assess whether your latest preoccupation concerns anything of real importance. Much of what we let get to us is trite or insignificant. The sooner we recognize this the better, and the ability to gain perspective is an invaluable skill in today's world.

Last week a younger colleague wondered if things were ever going to change around here and wondered if he could stand another 30 years of things the way they currently are. He was having one of those days - the kind of day I've had when I needed inspiration or a little more encouragement. I certainly needed perspective on those days.

I offered those to him by way of a metaphor. I suggested that he view each irritation as if it were a pendulum. No matter what point in its arc the pendulum occupies it will soon be in another. Change is a constant. Ever astute, he asked where we were on the pendulum's arc. I assured him that it had reached its extreme and was now on the way back to a healthier and happier place.

If gaining perspective isn't possible for you or in your situation, then it's time to take a moment. Go for a walk. Somewhere beyond the swirling mists you will surely find your own Inspiration Point.

09 May, 2013

{essential truths} Poetry

It's worth it to memorize your favorite poem.
Maybe even several.

08 May, 2013

Talisman, Talisman

tal·is·man \ˈta-ləs-mən\

An object held to act as a charm to avert evil or produce miraculous effects.

It was just a simple piece of plastic. Expensive, but simple. I had kept it as an afterthought on my way out of the hospital in March of 2009. I no longer needed it when my tracheostomy tube was removed - so I just placed it in my eyeglass case. Intentionally placed it in my case, I think. I found it months later having completely forgotten about it. I obviously sensed it was important at some level but did not fully appreciate how much.

In one of those spur of the moment actions, last May I showed it to a close friend at work and asked if she knew what it was. Of course not - but once I explained, she immediately seized upon its significance and dubbed it a talisman, a favorite word for both of us. It remains on my desk as a reminder of challenges overcome, but I did not understand how powerful a talisman it was until last August.

My friend's sister had been ill with a variety of difficulties, one of which ultimately led to her receiving the same procedure I had undergone. It
represents the best of times and the worst of times - a welcome but trying experience. One is happy to breathe more easily but frustrated with other aspects of the tracheostomy. The one that has prompted this reflection is that you cannot speak without a special valve inserted in the opening. That valve is today one of my talismans.

It has power. It reminds me of much that could have led to despair but did not. I do, of course, recall waking and thinking I was never to speak again; that misconception, however, was easily corrected. Although there are a number of unpleasant memories of that time, there are happy ones too.

I remember the speech therapist placing his finger over the opening in my neck and presto - speech! He then taught my wife how to do that - at least for very short periods since you can't breathe. My mother was finally able to hear her son talk again. I had been silent and in drug-induced la la land for weeks.

I remember the exuberance I felt upon receiving the valve, but I also remember the feeling of helplessness when it had to be removed each night during sleep, not to be reinserted until someone did it for me the next morning. I did not and do not like that feeling.

Helplessness is an enemy, and for almost four decades I have fought instinctively whenever it has tried to gain a foothold. Unlike my own, it is an unwanted voice. Nothing good ever comes from helplessness, and I hope that everyone has those experiences in life that help preclude or at least diminish any potential helplessness or its shadow, hopelessness. I also hope that if it ever should occur, it evaporates as quickly as the morning mist.

As for me, there was a decade beginning in the late-60s when helplessness grew modestly, slowly, and unnoticed, but I am a lucky man. From a reservoir previously untapped I found what was needed to silence its paralytic message, and it won't be back. Not even a whisper.

Nevertheless, my talisman is a faithful reminder, and it encourages me. Look around. I am sure there are similar items in your life. Find them. Let them help you remember lessons that have sometimes been learned at far too high a cost, and those are the ones we do not wish and can rarely afford to repeat.

07 May, 2013

And They're Off

I watched the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the 139th Run for the Roses. I don't know why, but I always do. Sometimes I'll even make a mint julep although not this time.

I'm not a gambler and rarely bet on anything, but I've been known to jump out of the chair and start yelling at them as they round the clubhouse turn and head for the finish. And ... I usually have almost no idea who's racing. I'm not even a fan of horse racing in general. I'm just nuts, I guess.

I did sit in the stands of Churchill Downs once, but it was the week after the Derby. In fact, the seats in which we sat would have cost well over a $1000 each just seven days earlier, and that's definitely not an option for me. I was there with my family at a special event organized by the International Science Fair where my daughter was competing. No racing for us - just Bill Nye, the Science Guy and some other entertainment.

Anyway ... I watched the race and reacted as I always do. I got emotional and shed a tear or two. I'd like to think this emotional reaction to horse racing began when I watched a different race decades ago. In that race the horse broke a leg in the back stretch and had to be destroyed.

I have never forgotten that, but it's not really why I get emotional. I suppose at some level it's possible the abilities of these horses remind me of my own challenges and the things I can no longer do, but that's not it either. That might lead to sadness, and these tears are "happy" tears.

I watch these powerful animals, so beautiful and graceful, run with a spirit that we can only envy. What most of us wouldn't give to run with that joy, with that sense of freedom! Then I think of the massive power being transferred to the ground through those seemingly too fragile legs, their one weakness. It's the utter magnificence of it all that gets to me.

I have to wonder how anyone can look at these horses run and not shed a tear over the sheer majesty they represent. I hope that I always do. To be able to experience fully whatever emotion I'm feeling tells me I'm alive. And alive is good; it beats all of the alternatives. Although I'm not that sure I ever was, I would not have liked being told that "big boys don't cry."

By the way, Orb won. He wasn't my pick, but then I never choose based on anything other what feels right. I have to admit that two years ago I was pulling for the lady jockey who was on Pants on Fire. I liked that she was the rare female Derby jockey (only the 6th in history), and I liked the horse's name. So this year I rooted for her again - Rosie Napravnik riding Mylute. Ninth place in 2011 and fifth place this year. She's good and, sooner or later, a winner.

Maybe next year.

06 May, 2013

Finn Needs A Caption: 1

Please create a caption for my grandson's photo (at 6 months) and leave it as your comment. Thanks.

05 May, 2013

Jesus Is Watching You

A burglar broke into a home and was looking around. He heard a soft voice say, "Jesus is watching you." Thinking it was just his imagination, he continued his search. Again the voice said "Jesus is watching you."

He turned his flashlight around and saw a parrot in a cage. He asked the parrot if he was the one talking, and the parrot said, "Yes."

He asked the parrot what his name was, and the parrot said, "Moses."

The burglar then asked, "What kind of people would name a parrot Moses?" The parrot said, "The same kind of people who would name their German Shepherd Jesus."
Author Unknown   

04 May, 2013


Almost every day I photograph this tree near my office window - always from the same angle and about the same time of day. This is my favorite image from the past week.

Copyright © 2013 Thomas G. Brown

To view a video set to music that contains 135 images taken over 12 months, click here.

For the 2010 collection of images, click here.
For the 2011 collection of images, click here.
For the 2012 collection of images, click here.
For the 2013 collection of images, click here.

03 May, 2013

Mighty Finn - Update #14

Hey, guys. I'm home after a two week excursion in Guatemala where mommy was collecting data for her research. Enjoy the photos.

I'm not as young as I used to be, and 3000 kilometers
in the air pretty much tuckered me out.

After I got up, I discovered it was hot.
I found these stone floors to be cool,
and now I know all about thermal mass.

Or course, I can't sit there forever -
so sometimes you just gotta strip down to be cool.

The house where we stayed had lots of really neat windows.
This one was a favorite.

Here I am by the unneeded fireplace -
trying to decide what to do with this basket.

Solved it.

We liked to walk in the local park of Paseo Cayala.
That's where I met Estephania, but
I didn't understand a single word she said.

She seemed fascinated by my pacifier. I don't think she had ever
enjoyed one, but it's not something you want to share.
Not on a first date anyway.

Our compound had a nice yard.

And lots of flowers.
Not sure what I was thinking - probably about the heat.

I tried to get a bounce out of this thing, but nada.
I guess I need to bulk up a bit.

We also went to Antigua. Beautiful. This was our hotel.

It had a great fountain - a lot larger
than the one in my bathroom.

We had a nice meal here, and I got to use real fork. Cool.

Out the window I was able to watch them making tortillas.

Please enjoy some native music. I loved these musicians.

Adios, muchachas.