We love to travel and especially enjoy roadtrips across America. Since we’ve been married in 2019, the two of us–along with Mr. Beefy, our “King of the Hill Country” canine–have been to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maryland.
We also enjoyed Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Washington DC, West Virginia…and we’ve just started.
Both of us have peculiar little quirks of interests, individually and those we share: museums, historical sites, camping, amusement parks, birdwatching, theater, concerts and roadside attractions.
One in particular is viewing restored pieces of history, especially trains, planes and automobiles. When it comes to restoring things from the past, such as an antique or junk someone left behind, there’s plenty of room to let the imagination run wild.
Being Baby Boomers, it’s not so hard to enjoy seeing what others have done by restoring vintage travel trailers. We hope these make you smile.
We passed up going to WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and I instantly regretted it after we left.
Driving away toward the Great Smokies National Park, I suddenly remembered a Facebook post from a friend, Janie Buys, a few years ago mentioning the attraction. It seems she had doubts about visiting it with husband Phil and son Phil Jr., but after she went in, it didn’t take her long to enjoy it.
A couple of weeks later into our month long roadtrip, Dodie and I were pleasantly surprised to see a WonderWorks in Branson, Missouri.
Dodie, a retired nurse, has always enjoyed science and the attraction bills itself as “a science focused indoor amusement park, combines education and entertainment. With over 100 hands-on exhibits – there is something unique and challenging for all ages.”
The building is enticing enough to spur anyone’s interest. It looks like a giant four story venue turned upside down. As soon as we walked in, the floor was the ceiling and the ceiling was the floor.
It was fun to experience the power of 84mph hurricane–force winds in the Hurricane Shack. Some chose to make huge, life–sized bubbles in the Bubble Lab.
I enjoyed the NASA Space area but we elected not to get strapped into the Astronaut Training Gyro to “experience zero gravity.” We also passed lying on the death–defying Bed of Nails.
Here’s the Top 10 Things I Learned at WonderWorks:
1. You can’t see your ears without a mirror.
2. You can’t count your hair.
3. You can’t breath through your nose with your tounge out.
4. You just tried No. 3.
6. When you tried No. 3 you realized that it is possible, but you looked like a dog.
7. You are smiling right now, because you were fooled.
8. You skipped No. 5.
9. You just checked to see if there is a No. 5.
10. Share this with your friends so they can have fun too.
Positive thinking is one of the most beneficial habits a person can adopt.
The Mayo Clinic explains that it is an effective form of stress management and can improve general health. It can also increase lifespan, lessen depression and stress, and help build better resistance against diseases.
In trying times, you should try to see things in an optimistic manner. Positive thinking isn’t about disregarding struggles; it’s about trying to look at a situation with a less abrasive perspective. This will help you live a happier and more fulfilling life. If you want to learn how to think more positively, there are many resources, like books, which can help you. Here are a few that will surely guide you to see things with a better mindset:
The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck
First on this list is a book by Mark Manson.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is all about learning to accept the circumstances you encounter and taking things in stride. Problems are inevitable but instead of feeling negatively towards them, learn to let go and not take them too seriously.
Iconic singer Freddie Mercury has said “I’ve lived a full life and if I’m dead tomorrow, I don’t give a damn,” which is the mindset Manson wanted to impart in his book. Knowing yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses can help you understand which challenges you can overcome and how. This will help you find constant and genuine happiness. It will also aid you in how to think more positively and productively.
Don’t Overthink It
Thinking and reflecting aren’t necessarily bad things, but when you tend to overdo it, it can lead to more stress and anxiety.
Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel aims to teach readers to stop overthinking on a daily basis. Overthinking can oftentimes feel like a pattern that is difficult to break and one that we have no control over.
But Bogel explains that negative thoughts can be changed to positive ones, even when you’re overthinking, using the many actionable strategies she lists in her book. Included inside is a framework that readers can use in discerning both small and big decisions. Simply following it can bring more peace, joy, and love into your life. This will not only guide you to breaking the habit of negative thinking but it will also help you find energy for things that really matter to you.
Happiness Becomes You
Tina Turner is a legendary name in the music industry. In her book Happiness Becomes You, she lays down the knowledge she has amassed throughout her life and career that helped her think positively. She tackles the many hardships she has encountered in hopes of giving people motivation to keep going.
Turner also taps into her Buddhist faith as it has kept her grounded for decades. She talks about how she turned her dreams into a reality and how to make the impossible happen. It details the many adversities that the singer was able to overcome before she found the success she has today. This book radiates nothing but positivity, and those who read it will learn a thing or two about how a good mentality can be a great help to achieving their goals.
One of the major aspects of positive thinking is learning to be less harsh on yourself and others.
Deep Kindness by Houston Kraft highlights the many ways readers can practice imparting goodwill. The book also explains how these principles can help you get ahead in life.
Kraft gives many exercises and prompts to help readers develop their sense of kindness and why it is important in today’s world. Not only will it help create a positive environment, but it will also help build a positive mentality by helping readers live a better and more fulfilling life. Through constant practice, you will find yourself acting more kindly towards yourself and those around you, making your mindset more optimistic overall.
Learning how to lessen negative thoughts can be difficult, but positive thinking is something many people need. Through learning to accept life’s challenges, spending more time on things you love, and being kinder to yourself, positive thinking can become second nature.
It was fun interviewing and meeting performers (Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Clint Eastwood, Freddie Mercury, Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina, and Jackson Browne, to name a few).
In journalism school at Southwest Texas State (now Texas State) University, I started out as University Star Fine Arts Assistant Editor my sophomore year.
Especially rewarding were lessons I took away from writing reviews of concerts, theatrical performing arts, books and art. Committed to learning all I could to hone writing skills, I paid particular attention to Journalism and English professors who endured my thirst for knowledge in and out of class.
One of the more prominent lessons was the “Three Act Narrative.” Today, we have the Internet, but I wouldn’t trade the value of learning from brilliant teachers and good ol’ trial and error.
In screenplay writing, I’ve learned movie plots go by a formula called “The Hero’s Journey.” However, in practically every story you’ve ever read or seen has more in common than you think.
What if I said that a bloodcurdling horror movie with zombies and a Shakespeare play has the same building blocks? Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? But it won’t be once you understand what narrative structure is.
Plot vs Narrative
You may have heard of the word plot and the word narrative, but they are not one and the same.
🔹‘Plot’ refers to the summation of events in any given story.
🔹 ‘Narrative’ refers to the way the plot is structured and presented to the reader.
Detective novels involve the investigation recounting what actually happened in the mystery. While the plot would involve these details regardless of where they appear in the text, the narrative offers the reader clues along the way and saves the big reveal for the end.
By cursory glance, the structure may seem inconsequential. But in truth, the narrative is what makes every story satisfying.
As readers, we love to piece together the details of any story ourselves before its revealed at the end. We also love when the writer peppers foreshadowing throughout the novel, as it makes the ending that much more satisfying. Even twist endings make sense in some way. But why is that?
This is because of a concept most writers use called the three-act structure. The concept is simple; your story can be divided into three, clearly defined or not, acts, each serving a different purpose. At its simplest, a story must have a beginning, middle and end. But how the writer structures these three has a large impact on how the story itself is read.
Act I: The first act has all to do with the setup. Also known as the expository act, this part of the story establishes everything we, the reader, need to know.
Where is this story set? If it’s not a real-world setting, what are the rules by which the universe operates? Who is our main character? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? What is the main conflict our hero must overcome? These are all questions the first act must answer.
The first act also features an ‘inciting incident’ that sets the story in motion and slowly builds towards a major plot point.
Act II: The second act starts right after the first major ‘incident’ in a novel. In The Wizard of Oz, this would be when Dorothy reaches Munchin Land for example, and the first major plot point was Glenna the Good Witch telling her to “follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
The second act’s role is to build towards the big climax by adding additional details that will become relevant later and include a second major plot point. Some novels may even feature a ‘midpoint’ – this is where the protagonist is at their lowest or the farthest from achieving their goals.
Act III: The third act packs the biggest punch of all – the climax. But before the climax, there must be something called a pre-climax. This is the part where the protagonist is working towards the climax in which they face their primary conflict head-on.
In The Wizard of Oz, this would be the lessons learned along the way with Scarecrow, Tinman and the Cowardly Lion to be overcomed before Dorothy confronts the Great and Powerful Wizard.
The third act is usually the shortest act in any novel because it moves so fast. Following the climax, the novel quickly offers a resolution that wraps everything up.
The 19th-century German writer Gustav Freytag adapted the three-act structure into what is now known as Freytag’s pyramid.
According to Freytag:
🔹‘Rising action’ is where the stakes are continuously raised and the key to building a satisfying climax.
🔹‘Falling action’ is when the big conflict is conquered and the story either winds down for a resolution or resets for a sequel, as is the case with most children’s books.
The name ‘three act structure’ comes from the fact that most dramas, especially dramas in ancient Greece as well as most of Shakespeare’s play years later, followed the three-act structure almost religiously.
Aristotle, in his seminal work ‘poetics’, where he explains the mechanics of what makes a good story, explains the important way to keep a story moving is its “cause and effect beats”. Every scene in a story must feed into the scene that happens next and not seem like standalone episodes.
The three-act structure is especially important in cinema, which must fit a remarkable amount of plot points, rising action and character growth into two hours or so.
Screenplay writers rely on the three-act structure to help them pace their movie in a way that keeps the audience engaged as well. The three-act structure really took off in the film industry after Syd Field’s pioneering book ‘Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. This book has served as a reference for some giants in the industry like James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood and in writing their own movies too.
The three-act structure has become so prevalent that it has also influenced the way TV shows are written. You may have noticed that when your favorite television show ends on a cliffhanger, the next season quickly resolves the cliffhanger so it can move on to building up the story again.
A narrative that is just as intense throughout the story with no build rarely has a satisfying ending. So what these TV show creators are doing is something like a soft reset. They are slowly building conflict again so that the season finale can be the most exciting point in the season.
Once you realize the basics of the three-act structure, it’s not that hard to spot. Whether it’s in books, movies, or TV shows, the three-act structure is everywhere.
A common topic of discussion in our family after watching a movie or seeing a play include questions like Where did the writers go wrong? Was there not enough exposition? Was there too much exposition? Did they drag out the middle?
The Secret to How Ritz-Carlton, H-E-B, Disney, ClubCorp and Goettl Soar
JackNotes: Summaries of Wisdom
Fortunately, I worked for a remarkable Texas business, H-E-B Food Drugs, from 1980 to 2010 and retired early as an executive over their facilities management organization.
H-E-B invests a great deal in training their employees (known as “Partners”) including customer service all the way. I made certain to retain and use this learning in my personal growth but loved to share it within my department.
Personal significant learning events included Six Sigma Certification, Executive Reinvention by Tracy Goss, Disney University, Project Management, Executive Finance from Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business and so much more.
Working with Clubline at Fair Oaks Ranch Golf & Country Club near San Antonio, I’ve been able to practice what I preach adapting their “Warm Welcomes, Magic Moments, and Fond Farewells” creed.
Like H-E-B, one of the best in their business is Ritz-Carlton. Service is EVERYTHING to them. It is what defines the chain in their very competitive niche. This is not to say that other firms that offer similar products do not have as a goal top-level customer service. They do. But few execute this as well as the Ritz-Carlton.
Three Steps of Service
It starts with their Three Steps of Service. These are:
A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name. As you walk about you are surprised by the number of times you are actually referred to by your name. Super simple idea that is sales or marketing 101. It is, however, very hard to execute on this. The Ritz-Carlton does this very well. Find a way to incorporate this into the approach of your staff to your clients. No one ever heard a better word spoken than their own name.
Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs. Your needs are anticipated in advance through questions, and the answers and preferences are recorded for future use. Don’t like a high floor? You will probably never be assigned one again. But this is the easy CRM type stuff. The difference is a rooms attendant seeing that champagne is in a container with mostly melted ice and immediately returning with ice to refill… anticipation of the need, with no management intervention.
Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest’s name. As you leave you are graciously thanked by everyone in the lobby area for your stay, and sent on with wishes to see you back as a guest soon. But with them it doesn’t just come from one individual, this comes from at least two other reception staff, from the two executives that are in the lobby awaiting arriving guests, from the many other staff, out the door to the bellman and valet driver, you are experiencing the delivery of an entirely different level of service.
Ladies and Gentlemen
How do the management drill this level of engagement down so that it is authentically delivered without prompting by the entire team? What gives the staff, the Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen as they are referred to, the OK to boldly step out with imaginative service in ways that seem held at bay with other companies despite their best intentions?
I am sure there are many more points but this list of 12 ‘Service Values‘ give clues. Read this list and where it says ‘Ritz-Carlton’ change that name for your company or personal brand.
Change also the word ‘guest’ to client or customer, as for most readers that is probably more relevant anyway.
The list of 12 starts with a declaration of the corporate mindset that you, the employee, are proud TO BE Ritz-Carlton. The brand, the experience, IS YOU.
This is reinforced by the following:
I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.
These are reviewed continually. It is not enough, as most companies do, to have an orientation meeting or two, give the employee the manual, and think the job is done. Daily focus is paid to one of these service values. It is as if the life of the company depends on it. Guess what? It does!
Without this the Ritz-Carlton is just another luxury brand chain, H-E-B is just another grocery and gas store and Goettl Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing would only be defining themselves by the facilities, the amenities, the products and services they sell.
Here’s how — a list of actions you can take today to seize that happiness. You don’t have to do these all at once, but you should do most (if not all) of them eventually, and sooner rather than later. Pick one or two and start today.
Be present. Don’t think about how great things will be in the future. Don’t dwell on what did or didn’t happen in the past. Learn to be in the here and now, and experience life as it’s happening, and appreciate the world for the beauty that it is, right now. Practice makes perfect with this crucial skill.
Connect with others. In my experience, very few things can achieve happiness as well as connecting with other human beings, cultivating relationships, bonding with others.
Spend time with those you love. This might seem almost the same as the item above, and in reality it’s an extension of the same concept, a more specific application. Spending time with the people you love is extremely important to happiness … and yet it’s incredible how often we do just the opposite, and spend time alone, or disconnected from those we love, or spend time with people we don’t much like. Make it a priority to schedule time with the people you love. Make that your most important item of the day. For myself, I have a time when I cut off work, and the rest of the day is for my family. Weekends are exclusively for my family. And by setting aside this sacred time, I ensure my happiness by letting nothing come between me and the people I love most.
Do the things you love. What do you love doing most? Figure out the 4-5 things you love doing most in life, the things that make you happiest, and make those the foundation of your day, every day. Eliminate as much of the rest as possible. For me, the things I love doing are: spending time with my family, writing, reading, and running. I do those things every day, and very little else. It may take awhile to get your life down to your essentials like I have (it took me a few years of careful elimination and rescheduling and saying “no” to requests that aren’t on my short list), but it’s worth the effort.
Focus on the good things. Everyone’s life has positive and negative aspects — whether you’re happy or not depends largely on which aspects you focus on. Did you lose today’s softball game? At least you got to spend time with friends doing something fun. Did you sprain your ankle running? Well, your body probably needed a week’s rest anyway, as you were running too much! Did your baby get sick? Well, at least it’s only a flu virus and nothing life-threatening … and at least you have a wonderful baby to nurse to health! You can see my point — almost everything has a positive side, and focusing on the positives make all the difference. My Auntie Kerry died last week (as you know), and I’m still grieving, but 1) I’m happy I spent time with her before her death; 2) her death has brought our family closer together; 3) her suffering has ended; and 4) it reminded me to spend more time with the people I love while they’re still alive.
Do work you love. An extension, of course, of doing the things you love, but applied to work. Are you already doing the work you love? Then you’re one of the lucky ones, and you should appreciate how lucky you are. If you aren’t doing the work you love, you should make it a priority to try to find work you’re passionate about, and to steer your career in that direction.
Lose yourself in your work. Once you’ve found work you love, the key is to lose yourself in it … clear away all distractions, find an interesting and challenging task, and just pour all your energy and focus into that task. With practice, you’ll forget about the outside world. There are few work-related joys that equal this feeling.
Help others. Is there any better feeling than helping a fellow human being? There aren’t many. And it’s not too hard.
Find time for peace. With the hectic pace of life these days, it’s hard to find a moment of peace. But if you can make time for solitude and quiet, it can be one of the happiest parts of your day.
Notice the small things. Instead of waiting for the big things to happen — marriage, kids, house, nice car, big promotion, winning the lottery — find happiness in the small things that happen every day. Little things like having a quiet cup of coffee in the early morning hours, or the delicious and simple taste of berries, or the pleasure of reading a book with your child, or taking a walk with your partner. Noticing these small pleasures, throughout your day, makes a huge difference.
Living in the present is the ultimate form of sanity.
You are most attractive when you are living in the now—not living in the future, or striving for it, or worrying or trying to repair the past.
When you appreciate that you can’t control or tell the future, you become more human. You begin to receive different goals, interests and results. You naturally center more on enjoying people and you enjoy people more. You stop wasting time on negative chases or useless ventures.
We all have things we want to accomplish or obtain. There’s totally nothing wrong with this. But pursuing these types of objectives often gets us so obsessed to the point that we’re more passionate about the future than we are about today. That’s how our anxiety and distress begins.
Whether your pursuit is to make loads of money, get married, change the world, or to become admired by everyone, you simply cannot let it lead you down a seductive path.
It is far more powerful and effective to spend your time and energy applied to perfecting the right now.
Too many times we will perhaps spend too much time worrying about our goals for the future, when we could attract and achieve a far better future by the more powerful, happy and satisfying approach of living in today.
The present is a wonderful teacher; the future is a seducer.
One of my favorite watercolor and graphic design artists is Jill Vance Bukowski out of Hewitt, near Waco, Texas.
I first met Jill–from Portales, New Mexico–in December of 1983. As the construction supervisor overseeing a new H-E-B Food-Drugs store we affectionately name “Challenger 7,” (it was the 7th store in Waco at the time), Jill was one of the retailer team Partners during the final phase before opening the store.
Very talented, with her trademark smile and happy disposition, Jill was fun to be around. Over the years we remained friends as she moved to San Antonio H-E-B headquarters at the historic U.S. Arsenal complex to work in graphic design in 1985. We would take our children, (Jill’s: Lacey and Logan, mine: Jennifer and Mark) to the circus or zoo back in the day.
Her husband, Paul, is a hardworking, dependable plumber with his company, Bukowski Brothers Plumbing, in Waco nowadays.
Over time her son, Bo and my youngest boys, Jack and Brady came to know each other at our lake house on Lake Buchanan (good halfway point between Waco and San Antonio) in the early ’90s.
Although I haven’t seen them in over 15-years, through the magic of internet we’ve kept up as our children have grown into adults with kids of their own.
Recently, I noticed she has Jillski’s Art in Hewitt and recognized the same familiar talent and style in her watercolor offerings.