Who is authoring your personal checklist?

There’s something about the human brain and lists. We crave order, delineation, and bite-sized chunks of information. A decade of social media exposure has only intensified this natural urge in us. We’re bombarded with bullet points and listicles by which we can judge our lives.


I’ll often find myself falling into the judgement trap. We’re doing great. We got 8 out of 10 on this one. Our relationship passed the test! But …. wait … that’s only 80%. That’s a B-. That sucks. Nobody wants a B- minus relationship. Here’s another list, we got 90% on this one. Whew!

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To be or not to be … yourself


My Instagram feed is filled with affirmamemes, the embellished quotes that remind us to be kind to ourselves and not listen when the world insists we conform to some idealized notion of living. Many a day, they show up at the perfect time to provide a shot of emotional tonic.

They’re right — to a point.

We should live our lives as authentically as possible, and not let others define who we are or how we should live.

But taken to an extreme, the attitude they exude — this is me, take it or leave it — tips toward an arrogance that denies the possibility of a better version of us waiting to be created. We buy into their simple affirmations, feel good wrapped in their forgiveness, share them out into the ether as our flag planted in unshifting ground.

There’s a danger in drinking too much from the stream of affirmation, without taking a hard look in the mirror, having honest internal conversations, and making the course corrections we need to be better versions of ourselves.

Focusing through the social media noise


I sat in a small dark room. My ears were covered, creating an unnerving silence almost too loud to bear. A little bit of claustrophobia crept in, broken only by the sound of her voice. The contralto of Cruella de Vil, sliding into my ears.

I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, as beautiful as her voice is smooth. She sat behind a pane of glass, with a warm but distant smile.

“If you can hear the tone, please raise your hand.” Read More

Sharing of the little moments

We’ve had a string of nice sunrises and sunsets lately, but none of the drop everything and grab the camera variety.

I sat drinking coffee on Friday morning, enjoying the calm before I woke my son for school and I prepared for a day at work. Bright orange sun streamed through my apartment kitchen window, silhouetting the coleus cuttings I’m rooting in a water goblet.

Even from a distance, I could see the sky reflected in the bowl and stem of the glass, despite the windows being fogged with condensation. Read More

An eager soul, ready lens, and perpetually dirty gloves

Light from the dining room creeps a few feet into the darkness outside, revealing a smattering of soggy leaves on the back deck. It’s been raining here for about 24 hours. The calendar says October, but the air smells distinctively of spring. There’s no fooling me, though, for my internal clock strikes autumn.

In this part of the country, October is the beginning of the end. Within a few weeks, we’re sure to have a killing frost that will drag a pall over the growing season. Some gardeners dread this event. Not me. I relish the metamorphosis of autumn. Sometimes it’s far too abrupt, as if summer is ripped from our not-yet-satisfied fingertips. But change is good — a reminder that we should never become too accustomed to the status quo.

Autumn makes me reflective, my birth month of October especially so. This year, the changing season mirrors the change that has occurred in my life — a significant career move, more involvement in my son’s scouting and baseball activities, and stepping down after a ten-year stint on our neighborhood association board. There have been times this year where my garden — and this blog — felt like an afterthought.

I began 2012 with ambitious goals for this blog. You know what they say about the best laid plans? Mine certainly went astray, and I know why. I made plans — and a schedule — full of ambition, but not of passion. In doing so, I ended up imposing a have-to mentality on my photography and writing. I took a passionate hobby, one that has given me great satisfaction and afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people and experience phenomenal places, and turned it into a job. By mid-summer,  the drought taxed my persistence in the garden and my blog posts felt increasingly like chores.

If I look back through the years of posts here at From the Soil, my favorite posts are spontaneous — inspired by a unique view of my own garden, the smell of fresh soil, a breathtaking sunset, a friend’s words, a family memory, or a simple expression on my son’s face. Spontaneity is not work; it has no schedule.

I believe that most writers and photographers have an innate need to share their experience of the world — and connecting with others through common inspiration. Both avocations are internally and individually therapeutic, but they have a necessary external component to them. From the Soil is my outlet, my way of describing and sharing those moments that inspire me — with the hope that those it reaches will share a little of themselves in return.

Spontaneity doesn’t punch a clock. Inspiration doesn’t post at the same time every day. Mine comes when I live life with my heart, mind and eyes wide open.  My promise to myself: Get back to living life. My promise to you: When inspiration graces me, I’ll do my best to share it with an eager soul, ready lens, and perpetually dirty gloves.

On the floor at the Independent Garden Center Show

I spent the last two days as a social media communicator at the Independent Garden Center Show on Navy Pier in Chicago. IGC is an annual trade show where owners and employees of independent garden centers (IGCs) have the opportunity to see what’s new in plant development and garden product manufacturing and place orders with the vendors for the upcoming sales season.

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Of hope and daffodils

A few weeks ago, we instituted a rule in our house where no one is allowed to use electronics between dinner and the time our son goes to bed. We had slipped into a pattern where the kid would play his Nintendo DS all evening, and my wife and I would cuddle up with our laptops, her on Hulu, me doing some form of social media. All of a sudden it would be bedtime, and we’d barely spoken a word to each other.
The no electronics rule has been a wonderful addition by subtraction. We are playing games together, reading books, and generally interacting more than we have in a long while. Despite the kid’s occasional “I can’t think of anything to do” or the serious temptation to pick up my iPhone just “to check in” with Facebook or Twitter, it has completely changed — for the better — how our family weekday evenings function.

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Comments and crickets

Life is a difficult thing to assess when you’re in the throes of it, so the painful and uncomfortable moments serve as a non-so-gentle reminder to gather yourself, step to higher ground, and gain fresh perspective on who you’ve become and where you’re headed. Last week, one of those moments made me realize that I needed to step back from a lifestyle that has completely dominated my existence of late. Social networking had become far too serious of an endeavor, and as a result, I had become acutely sensitive to nearly all my human interactions, online or otherwise. I was on edge, overreacting to the simplest nudge, tease or criticism. It was time for a serious break from active, almost real-time participation in Facebook and Twitter — my social networking drugs of choice.

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Resisting the F5 urge

If I were to track my laptop keystrokes, I think the F5 key would certainly rank as one of the most used. Even I would likely be surprised — perhaps disgusted — by the amount of time that I’ve spent hitting F5 to refresh my Facebook news feed or to see if there are new postings on Reddit and other news sites. And on most occasions, I’m left unsatisfied because F5 failed to bring me anything significantly new.

Just a few days ago, as our family went around the room declaring our new year’s resolutions, I promised to wake up and go to bed each with my back feeling both flexible and healthy. And while satisfying that promise will require a good bit of exercise and the discipline to get up out of my office chair on a regular basis, I think resisting the F5 urge may truly be the key to honoring this year’s resolution.

The quest for friends

Why do I spend so much time trolling through Facebook search results, looking for a familiar face or name? It’s like I’m trying to create a patchwork canvas of a past that has slowly slipped into the jumbled fog of my mind. Has a social network truly become my link outside “the box” I call life? At times I feel like a crazy person walking up and down the virtual street crying “Do I know you?” or “Please talk to me, I just want to talk to somebody.”

I think I’m wired for virtual relationships….it’s the actual ones I’m struggling with.