7 Easy Ways to Give the Gift of Celebration

Give someone a reason to celebrate (1)

The best presents at a party are not the ones wrapped up in paper, but people you can wrap in a  hug.

The U.S. is low on the totem pole of countries with celebrations. Having traveled to Central America and several African countries, I discovered they find any reason to celebrate and spend at least a week doing it.

I’ll never forget arriving in Pacora, Colombia, South America on a Thursday afternoon at 2 o’clock! and they were having a parade to celebrate the arrival of food we had shipped down for disaster relief. My son, Isaac, led the parade!

Recently, my children threw a surprise party to celebrate the release of my first novel, Voices on the Prairie. It was about the best day I had all year.

My wife asked me to make a list for my birthday; my list was full of people, not things.  And that thing Facebook does for  your birthday is FANTASTIC! I felt like a little kid again opening the presents  from people who paused long enough in their busy day to wish me well.

Is the best gift we can give someone is the gift of celebration? Here’s a list of ways to give the gift of celebration.

  • Look for a reason to celebrate with a person (this is the most important one)
  • Wish them well on social media (that helps engage others in the party!)
  • Send them a card or email acknowledging a milestone or accomplishment (these are usually the best gifts)
  • Throw a party for them to celebrate an achievement
  • Throw a party for them to support them in a rough time
  • Nominate them for an honor or award
  • Involve others in your circle of friends, family, or workplace

The best part of giving a gift of celebration is that is the gift a person will most remember. I often forget what was given to me, but I never forget the party.

How do you give the gift of celebration?


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The Power of Listening Well

friend

If you want to know the difference between listening and hearing, ask a married couple or parents of teenagers. In their top-ten list of oft-used phrases, you’re not listening to a word I’m saying is number five. There is a difference between hearing and listening.

I learned the lesson of listening well several years ago visiting a grief-stricken family in the church I pastored. They were suffering the tragic loss of their son and I stopped by to check on them. I sat down at seven in the evening and left around eleven and, in that four hours, barely pieced a sentence together. Seriously, other than a brief prayer at the end of the evening for them, I barely said more than ten words in four hours.

As I was leaving, the man said, “Young man, everything you said tonight helped us far more than you will ever know. We will cherish every word you spoke.”

I drove away befuddled; I never said anything of substance. However, the evening spent with them taught me more about the power of lisening well than any book I’ve ever read.

Driving home, I reflected on the conversation to understand what I did to encourage them. Nearly twenty years later, I have observed those who listen well and here are my conclusions:

  • People who listen well:
    • Listen to what is not being said
    • Make eye contact
    • Repeat words they hear the other person speak
    • Ask meaningful questions
    • Probe for further detail when appropriate
    • Empathize with body language (folded arms are a no-no)
    • Act like they care
    • Lean in towards the speaker, instead of leaning away
    • Communicate with facial expressions
    • Pick up on the body language of the speaker
    • Build trust
    • Don’t judge
    • Don’t offer advice unless it’s asked for

The most powerful lesson is this: if you listen well enough, you will help people discover solutions to their own problems.

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The Power of a Compliment

Mark Twain Quote

I can live two months on one good compliment. – Mark Twain

You have the power to make the people around you better through the power of a good compliment. Even if you have tough things that need to be addressed, lead with a genuine compliment and you will have a much more positive outcome.

My 8th grade football coach was a former Marine drill instructor whose cigarette-smoke breath I still smell each time a Kansas prairie burns. I suppose yelling derogatory insults works well if you’re an Army drill instructor sending kids off to face machine guns, but that style of leadership never motivated me. However, my basketball coach in high school was generous with true compliments and I exerted herculean effort to please him. Oh, sure, he’d bark at me if I messed up so I worked harder to make sure he never had to bark at me.

There is also some science behind this that indicates people will perform better if they receive  honest compliments. The brain is as stimulated by a compliment as it is by a cash reward. (Check out this short video on CNN by Dr. Sanjay Gupta)

  • Be genuine- The compliment must be real. An insincere compliment is like having your Mom wash your face with a dirty wash rag; it just doesn’t do the job. Or, as my Dad used to say, They’re blowing smoke up your skirt.
  • Be specific – Find something specific that person does such as, I like the way you treat people as equals. Broad generalities like, you’re the greatest person in the world, are like participation medals. They mean almost nothing and are cheap. The most unusual compliment I ever received was from a lady who was introducing me to a group of people whom I was going to address on the issue of hunger and said, “Rick has a heart bigger than my butt!” A bit awkward, but I’ve never forgotten it!
  • Be generous – Most people have a fair share of negative thoughts banging around in their head that they could use a few more compliments to overcome negative voices .
  • Be quick – When you see someone doing good, compliment them immediately.
  • Be creative- If passing on a verbal compliment is hard for you, send a note, write an email, or give them a bar of chocolate (okay, maybe that only works on me).

You have the ability to not only brighten someone’s day, you have the power to help them perform with greater passion and excellence.

Besides all of that, being nice will increase your own personal happiness.


 

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The One Lane Bridges of Kauai: A Photographic Journal

bridge 14

Kauai is not a good place to be if you like to hurry. Even if you are accustomed to a frenetic lifestyle, Kauai has a way of taking that out of you. And if you don’t give it up willingly, it just kind of forces it out of you. One of the most effective ways is to slow you down with its one-lane bridges. They are along the north shore from Princeville headed west to the end of the island. This stretch of the road is arguably the most scenic so Mother Nature influenced the early road builders in such a manner as to intentional make you chill out.

One land bridge west of Hanalei Bay

One-lane bridge west of Hanalei Bay

The highway along the north shore has several mechanism for slowing you down. Aside from the narrow, winding roads that are often close enough to the ocean that one wrong turn means you’ll be surfing in your rental car, the most charming interruptions are the one-lane bridges.

After you leave the Princeville area which is more or less where the high-rise hotel monstrosities end, you drop down into the Hanalei area where you encounter the first one-lane bridge, the Hanalei Bridge. This crosses the Hanalei River which, at one time, was crossed in a wooden ferry. The current Warren Trussed steel bridge was built in 2003, but replicates the first Carnegie steel truss bridge built in 1912, the same year the Titanic was built. In the early part of 2000, when the bridge needed to be replaced, Senator Daniel Inouye was responsible for having a replica built instead of a boring concrete bridge.

Hanalei River Bridge

Hanalei River Bridge

This lovely iron/wood bridge covers a stream where you can learn how to kayak or paddle board in safety before you head out the ocean. This stream connects to the small village of Hanelei where there are all sorts of kayak and surf shops.

One Lane Bridge sign

One Lane Bridge sign

Once you pass Hanalei town, you will encounter several more bridges as you head towards the end of the road at Ke’e Beach. Signs will warn you in advance that you are approaching a one-lane bridge.

The common courtesy is for 5-7 vehicles to pass, then let the oncoming traffic have their turn. There were two occasions while we were there where people ignored these signs and started into the bridges ahead of their turn. One impatient person shot past us and he was met shortly into the bridge by a friendly, but unyielding local who obviously had the right-of-way. These are not easy bridges to back up on, especially at night, so just be nice.

Shaka sign, or "hang-loose"

Shaka sign, or “hang-loose”

 

Try slow. The locals have a nice little sign to let you know you’re doing okay.

 

One down the road, there is a set of two bridges that are the most difficult to navigate because they are back-to-back and there’s a hokey little turn you have to make between them. Again, if you try slow you’ll be fine. One impatient driver had to back up half the length of the longest one in the dark. It took them a along time.

A Pair of One Lane Bridges

A Pair of One Lane Bridges

Another piece of advice I would give is NOT to travel at night. For a flatlander like myself, driving some of these windy, narrow roads at night was unsettling. One tire over the edge and Herbie the Love Bug had better be an amphibian. Plus, it seems like the hippies on the islands like to wear dark clothes so they’re hard to see in the dark.

One Lane Bridge

One-lane Bridge

The road along the north shore will also break you of texting-while-driving. Kauai doesn’t have a lot of signs warning you not to text-and-drive. It assumes that if you have at half-a-brain, you’ll know better than to try it because you’ll most likely end up in the ocean.

One-lane bridge

One-lane bridge

I’ve been home for a few weeks now since we went and, throughout the day when my life winds itself tighter than a three-day clock, I start looking for metaphorical one-lane bridges to slow me down. A cup of coffee; a phone call to a friend; lunch with a co-worker; a walk with my wife; all of these things are like one-lane bridges to intentionally pause, enjoy the scenery, and be nice to oncoming traffic.

Next up: Photographing Lumahai Beach, also knows as Luma-die beach.

Photographing Limahuli Garden: A Travel Journal of Kauai

Hale Noa of Limahuli Garden and Preserve

What would you load in a canoe if you were crossing the ocean to a place no one had ever been before?

Somewhere around 300 A.D., people in the Marquesas Islands far more brave and far less equipped than Christopher Columbus 1,100 years later strapped two hand-hew canoes together and headed off across the ocean to a place no one inhabited: the Hawaiian Islands. It’s not like some couple threw a dart on the map and decided to go there on vacation; they traveled over 2,500 miles of open sea – like going from New York to Reno – guided by the stars and found the islands. Those vessels, called Hokulea, carried everything needed to live in the islands, especially plants. These original explorers loaded up 27 varieties of plant – now called Canoe Plants – plus 4 varieties of animals (jungle fowl, rats, dogs, and pigs). You can see those plants at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve.

A short drive, or walk, to the east from Ke’e Beach and the head of the Kalalau Trail, the Limanhuli Garden sits on the south side of the road. One of five in the National Tropical Botanical GardensLimahuli is the best place on the island to get a sense of what life used to be like. When you first enter Limahuli, you will see this house, the Hale Noa.

Hale Noa of Limahuli

Hale Noa of Limahuli

Once you park, you will go to the Visitor’s Center to pay $20 per person for an adult pass and receive an excellent, 52-page guide. They recommend taking 1.5 hours, but I’d encourage you to take longer. One of Kauaui’s mottos is, Try Slow. You can also book guided tours.

The first area – known as the Canoe Garden – is an archaeological site dating back 700 years. By this time – roughly the time of Columbus setting out on his first voyage – Kauai had already been inhabited 1,100 years and this 1,000 acre Limahuli valley was a premiere settlement. The Limahuli Stream is diverted through this series of terraces where the Canoe Plants are on display. The most important plant in the history of Hawaii is the Kalo, or Taro, plant which is grown in standing water. It has long been the staple of the Hawaiian diet from which the popular poi is made.

Kalo (Taro) plants, a staple of the Hawaiian diet

Kalo (Taro) plants, a staple of the Hawaiian diet

The Limahuli Stream cascades down the right side of this valley and there is a nice bridge where you can set up your camera on a tripod to photograph the water. If you want to blur water that is moving down a stream like this, you must set your camera on a tripod and slow the shutter speed down to at least 1/4 of  a second. I also want as much of the image in focus as possible so my aperture was set at f22. The higher the aperture number, the greater the depth-of-field (area that is in focus). Also, I used a circular polarizer that helps cut down the glare of water which I mentioned how to use in my previous article.

Limahuli Stream

Limahuli Stream

Once you leave the Canoe Garden, you will enter the Plantation Era Garden. After Captain Cook – the first recorded European to hit the islands – arrived in 1778, many new plants were introduced. Mango, papaya, pineapple, plumeria, and brightly colored orchids. If you like photographing flora and fauna, this is a part of the garden you will love. I change my camera settings when I photograph flowers to a larger aperture like f4 for 5.6. Aperture openings that size create a smaller depth-of-field which means certain parts of the image will be in focus and the other parts out-of-focus. This effect is desired with close-up photography (known as macro photography) because it isolates a subject against a background. Notice in the image below how the background is out-of-focus? This makes the image pop more. If you can’t set your camera manually, there is usually a setting for flowers; use that, it will automatically open the aperture.

My wife, Christine, captured this image and intentionally broke the rule-of-thirds which places the object at one of the intersections of an image divided into vertical and horizontal thirds. When you break this rule of third, you are making a statement about the flower; you are now following the rules of portraiture which places the subject right in the center of a photograph. Think of this images as a head-shot; the close-up portrait of a person; they are always centered.

flower

 

In addition to giving you a booklet to guide you on your walk, there are numerous descriptive signs along the way. This image of the sugar cane was captured in the Plantation Era Garden. Sugarcane was once the most profitable exports on the island, but it has now been replaced by coffee and seed corn.

 

Sugarcare, once the most profitable export crop on the island.

Sugarcare; part of the Plantation Era Garden

It was assumed for years that the Hala Tree was a non-native plant introduced by the ancient settlers. The leaves are used for a variety of purposes like the roof on the Hale Noa pictured earlier, woven together to make sails and a multitude of other uses. A few years back, a large volcanic rock fell from a cliff and split open. Inside, they find a Hala plant that pre-dates human settlement by thousands of years.

Hala

Hala

As you continue through the forest part of the trail, you crest in an open area that is an ideal spot for a picnic.

Top of Limahuli Garden

Top of Limahuli Garden

This vista overlooks the ocean and the famous Makana – also known as Bali Hai – which was made popular in the movie South Pacific. In ancient times, the ‘oahi – fire throwing ceremony – took place on Makana as young men scrambled to the top and launch light, dry logs out over the ocean. Air currents carried the fire-sticks up to a mile across the ocean. One of the most popular places to photograph Makana, or Bali Hai, is several miles away in Hanalei Bay. I’ll show you in a later where, and how, to capture that image.

Makana, also known as Bali Hai

Makana, also known as Bali Hai

Keep an eye out for whales; this is the place during January of each year where whales arrive and put on a show.

Overlooking the north shore from atop Limahuli Garden

Overlooking the north shore from atop Limahuli Garden

As you walk back down to the entrance, I would encourage you to turn around and take in the beauty before you get in your car.

 

Walking through a garden like this is like walking through history. Pause as you leave and let your imagination take you back to children playing in the stream and people hunched over the taro plants, tending to them like they were part of the family. Imagine the fire-sticks hurling across the ocean and men loading hand-hewn canoes to go fishing in the sea.

Try slow.

Try Slow

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