Posts by Debbie Burdick

Originally from northern lower Michigan, I've spent the last few decades living on Florida's Gulf Coast. I come from a long line of resourceful, energetic entrepreneurs. I'm a ghost writer, a voracious reader, and my work with museum exhibits inspires the pursuit of some fairly eclectic hobbies, including architectural salvage and antique hunting, working with vintage fabrics, wood, and metal finishes, identifying elements that make immersive environments sing, and tracking down authentic and replica artifacts. I have the best job in the world, and the one most difficult to pin down and describe in an elevator speech. In 20 years, I can honestly say I haven’t had a bad day at work. Challenging, yes. Bad, no. You’ll never hear me say this: “There’s got to be something better out there.”

Dining Al Fresco

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Putting the “fresh” in “fresh food, served fresh.” Photo courtesy Brian Butler

Spotted recently in downtown Pensacola: four sleek silver Airstream trailers. They’re not just passing through, either; you can find them at the intersection of South Palafox and Main Streets. If you’re looking for a delicious outdoor dining option with out-of-the-box menus like fresh Gulf seafood, authentic Southern barbecue, a Tex-Mex taqueria, and Asian fusion, and you like the idea of people watching while perching at a pub table under a patio umbrella just a few steps from Pensacola Bay, this is probably a great fit for you. “Gouda Stuff” has a menu dedicated to grilled cheese lovers. Can you even imagine?

If you want your lunch to be a combination of great local food, a perfect heart-of-downtown setting, and breezes off the bay…call me and I’ll join you. It’s like taking an hour-long vacation without leaving the zip code. Most places are open for lunch and dinner, there’s a daily happy hour, and on Mondays, kids 12 and under eat free. Explore menus to your heart’s content here: www.eatalfresco.com.

The Safest Woman Around

gone but not forgotten headstoneI met Bridget yesterday in a cemetery so small and unnoticed it almost looked like a vacant city lot. The headstones were scattered and homemade. In the middle of the cemetery, there was a big old live oak tree, and near the tree, a single wooden bench.

We were installing graphic panels in a wooden kiosk, panels that helped show and tell the story of the cemetery and some of the people buried there. Occasionally people passed by on foot or bicycle, greeting us politely, curious about what we were doing there.

Bridget called to us from her house across the street, and before long she was beside us, sporting plaid pajamas, a gray sweatshirt, and a cheery pink hat. She’d been keeping an eye on the cemetery and the kiosk, she told us, and she loved the idea that the cemetery’s history was being preserved.

Bridget had served in the Army, we learned, been in Germany, knew something of Homeland Security, held a degree from the local university. She was a minister now.

Bridget told me a story about Mary, who used to walk through the neighborhood every day. Bridget became acquainted with her, and they used to walk together. “Miss Mary used to tell me this was good for her mind, walking here,” Bridget said proudly. “We got used to seeing her around all the time. Folks would talk with her, and she would talk with them. She was just a common woman, in common clothes, you understand? Nothing fine or fancy about her.”

“Wasn’t till later we found out Miss Mary was from an old Pensacola family, and she had money. She never let that be what she was about. She just loved walking here, and she would talk to anybody, and we all knew her. You know what? I bet Miss Mary was the safest woman around. She wasn’t big, or tough, but nobody bothered her.”

I thought on Bridget’s words quite a bit the rest of the day. A woman like Miss Mary could have stayed tucked away in a big house in a gated neighborhood, never knowing anything of the people who lived in the communities she passed through — or around — on her way to other places. She could have kept her friends and associations limited to just people who were like her. But she didn’t. Mary’s family was successful in business, and they gave back most generously to the community that had been good to them.

And then I thought: would we do that now? Walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood, taking time to greet people and be greeted by them, not just rushing through on our way somewhere else? If it weren’t for Copper, I might not have the inclination to walk through my own neighborhood, let alone one that wasn’t anywhere near my home. But Miss Mary, she did exactly that, with an open mind and an open heart, and she found not only her way, but her place.

Just Do It

Golden Rule #31: Do What You’re Made To Do.

Of all the rules, this is one of my absolute favorites. Does this mean you’re only made to do one thing? Nope. It certainly doesn’t. It means you are wired a certain way, with specific gifts, skills, strengths, and aptitudes, and completing those circuits will complete something inside you like nothing else.

Many years ago my best girlfriend in the history of ever hand-lettered a beautiful sentiment. No idea where she got it, but I memorized it, and it has proved itself so true, over and over and over, as the years have gone by.

A woman will get only what she seeks

Choose your goals carefully

Know what you like

And what you do not like

Be critical about what you can do well

Choose a career or lifestyle that interests you

And work hard to make it a success

But also have fun in what you do

Be honest with people, and do your best

But don’t depend on anyone to make life easy or happy for you

(Only you can do that for yourself)

Be strong and decisive

But remain sensitive

Understand who you are

And what you want in life

When you are ready to enter a relationship

Make sure that the person is worthy

Of everything you are physically and mentally capable of

Strive to achieve all that you want

Find happiness in everything you do

Love with your entire being

Love with an uninhibited soul

Make a triumph of every aspect of your life.

(Author: Susan Polis Schultz)

I haul it out and think on it, especially when I struggle with whether I’m doing what I’m made to do. Mind you, I haven’t questioned that much in the last 15 years or so. I know I am. But before that? I worked as a customer service representative for a big publishing company. It had a daunting list of unfamiliar products, a phone system that screamed and flashed lights when calls were waiting, a computer system that defied anyone’s ability to navigate, and countless bright eyed college students spinning facts from scripts at dizzying speeds while administrators trolled up and down between the desks. Oh yes and hosts of angry customers, many of whom worked up a healthy head of steam while waiting on hold for almost an hour. Time clocks. Policies. Dress Codes. Headsets. It was memorable for so many different reasons, and I can still recall in vivid technicolor some of the most vicious calls.

Before that, I worked for a general practice law firm, back before computers were commonplace but mag card typewriters and IBM Personal Typing Systems…now they were everywhere! I could transcribe dictation, navigate the Michigan Court Rules, decipher the world’s worst penmanship, set up and maintain complicated client files, and file court documents with the best of them. The stories from that place! No wonder John Grisham can write so prolifically!

And before that, I sold black sweet cherries at roadside fruit stands during the summers. Great way to meet people. Get a good tan, if only on the front half of me. Weigh and display fruit. Count change. Give directions to out-of-towners. It was a grand adventure that began when I was about 14.

There were other jobs along the way, too, and even when I despaired of ever making a living as a writer, in retrospect, I know this for sure: there was no wasted time, no wasted skill. It all went into the hopper of life experience, and I use it today. Well, maybe not the mag card typewriter. But the ability to master unfamiliar equipment and programs? Yep. What about calming down upset people? Every. Single. Day. Preparing invoices? Cutting checks? Giving directions? Oh yes. Yes indeed.

The thing is, you have to get to a point where you know that you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. You’ve paid your dues. You don’t apologize…you just do what you know, and do what you are, and it is enough. It is more than just enough. It is the best and rarest thing ever. Don’t forget: you have the best job in the world — and you are absolutely qualified to do it!

How did Copper teach me this life lesson? Well, he pretty much underscored it. Life itself taught me, and life is a relentless teacher…if you don’t get the lesson one way, it circles around and teaches you another way.

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Copper is all about doing what he is made to do. Copper’s registered name is Wright’s Golden Comfort. He is uniquely attuned to the atmosphere around him. When someone needs comfort, he is all over that. He leans into them. He staples them to the floor with his body. He just oozes comfort. I don’t know how he knows. But he knows. And he is the greatest comfort when things are uncertain. Turns out he joined us on the cusp of more uncertainty than anyone imagined. And he just muscles his beautiful golden way right through it and reassures us with his smile and his incredibly positive attitude. Is he perfect? No. Does he make things better? You better believe it!

Calm vs Dull

Golden Rule #30: There Are No Dull Moments. None.

How often do you hear someone say, “That’s boring!” or, “I’m bored!” Bored, like so many other things in life, is an attitude, and an attitude is…a choice.

Some things are more interesting and exciting than other things. Folding socks, for instance, is not terribly interesting. Data entry tends to make the mind want to wander. How about being caught at the railroad tracks by a seemingly endless, slow-moving train?

Trains and tracks wind throughout Pensacola like a giant zipper. As frustrating as it might be to be caught on the wrong side of the tracks when one lumbers through, I remind myself…the railroads opened Pensacola up to the rest of the country. Before they came, Pensacola was largely accessible only by water. Our beautiful beaches really were our best-kept secret. The railroads brought people in…and took people, and products, out. Everything changed when the railroads came through.

But that doesn’t really help when you’re sitting at the track with the bars coming inexorably down. What do you do? When my daughters were young, we used to count the train cars. About the time we got close to 100 cars, the train would start picking up speed and we would see the caboose rumbling along behind alllllll those cars. It actually got to the point where we didn’t dread the trains because we knew we’d get to count the cars, and check out the colorful graffiti on the sides of some of them. Double decker cars counted twice, by the way.

Because I’m convinced that everything happens for a reason, I tend not to see any moments as “dull.” I just don’t. There’s always something to study, turn over, think about, or do. Even as a kid, I found ways to entertain myself. When I was about 10 years old, I used to sit in church, pencil in hand, paper on my lap (usually the back of one of those handy offering envelopes at the ready in the pew in front of us), and write down every word I heard that was seven letters or longer. We lived in a college town, and some of those preachers really went to town with the five-dollar words. After the service, I would give the list to my dad, who would thank me, and carefully tuck it away in his jacket pocket. What was the point? Well, there probably wasn’t one. Nobody told me to do that. Did it help my vocabulary, and affect my livelihood? Possibly. It kept me out of trouble, though, because I never knew when one of those words was going to show up.

And what has life with Copper taught me about dull moments? With Copper around, there is no such thing, ever! Copper is a very busy dog. He has always been a very busy dog, from the time he arrived on the scene. I loved that his breeder kept him and his litter mates in a pen filled with cedar shavings and played classical music to soothe their little minds and impart culture as well. I’ve learned that “calm” and “dull” are nowhere near the same words, even though they have the same number of letters. We’ve learned that twice-daily walks help settle Copper’s mind and we use the term “power chewer” when referring to his habits. Copper always has the inclination to calm others down, whether people or dogs, and he’s sensitive to tension in the atmosphere. Sometimes we have to help him calm down, too, when he’s too excited. But dull? Nope. Not a single second of dull with this bright boy around!

Copper at the beach

Daring Greatly…and Being Thankful

Golden Rule #29: Be Thankful for the Opportunity.

This one is pretty easy, when things go well and you finish a project triumphantly and you get to hear praise for your creativity and hard work and the check arrives and you have the prospect of more wonderful things in the near future. Yep. It really is.

And then there are times when you take on more than you can possibly do, and you know that even your best effort might not be enough. You’re tired, dirty, hungry, and nobody is paying the least bit of attention to you or your work. Instead of feeling good, you’re feeling lousy, and the refrigerator stops working and the car is making a funny noise and that’s an unexpected bill in your mailbox.

How about the times when you have to change course so suddenly that you don’t get a chance to finish what you started? Those might be the hardest ones of all — there’s no closure, no sense of completion.

To all of those, can you say, gracefully, “thank you for the opportunity?” Even bad experiences teach us important lessons, and those lessons definitely stick!

I absolutely love Teddy Roosevelt’s speech entitled “Citizenship in a  Republic.” In part, he said,

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

You can’t go wrong being thankful. You just can’t. It catches people off guard. Often they aren’t expecting it. They might think you’re going to ignore them, or chew them out, and instead, you thank them. Try it. See what happens.

copper gaze on bed

Copper embodies gratitude. He thanks me for waking up in the morning, for taking him for his two daily walks, for his food, for his treats, for his school sessions, for making sure he has access to fresh flowing water in the bathtub, and for any number of other things. He sometimes shows it in crazy ways — just yesterday I had to bribe him to release a macaroni-and-cheese print sock of Marley’s, for instance. But there is no “cold and timid” with Copper. I know where I stand with him. His gratitude makes my days infinitely better.

Do the Hard Thing

Golden Rule #28: “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Thing.”

A story related to me by a favorite exhibit contractor of ours was breathtaking in its simplicity. When colleagues of his became agitated over something outside their control, he pointed out the obvious. “Ain’t nothin’ but a thing,” he said in his distinctive Alabama drawl. With that, I realized he was absolutely right. The person was assigning the “thing” far more importance than it deserved. Things could be changed, replaced, reworked, or relocated. It simply wasn’t worth the significance it was being given or the aggravation it was causing.

copper and possum

When Copper was younger, he had a habit of destroying things. Shoes. Favorite toys. Electronic devices. Sunglasses. As a result, he learned a few things. He learned the meaning of the phrase “tuck in” when we had to leave him alone. We learned not to leave things where he could reach them. I learned dogs are most likely to destroy something out of frustration during the first 30 minutes they’re left on their own. And I learned that no thing was worth destroying Copper’s trust in us as his caregivers.

Entrepreneur and business strategist Dan Waldschmidt said it this way:

You have to make the call you’re afraid to make.

You have to get up earlier than you want to get up.

You have to give more than you get in return right away.

You have to care more about others than they care about you.

You have to fight when you are already injured, bloody, and sore.

You have to feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter.

You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.

You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is.

You have to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.

You have to grind out the details when it’s easier to shrug them off.

You have to deliver results when making excuses is an option.

You have to search for your own explanations even when you’re told to accept the “facts”.

You have to make mistakes and look like an idiot.

You have try and fail and try again.

You have to run faster even though you’re out of breath.

You have to be kind to people who have been cruel to you.

You have to meet deadlines that are unreasonable and deliver results that are unparalleled.

You have to be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.

You have to keep moving towards where you want to be no matter what’s in front of you.

You have to do the hard things.

The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on.

Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

The hard things are the easiest things to avoid. To excuse away. To pretend like they don’t apply to you.

The simple truth about how ordinary people accomplish outrageous feats of success is that they do the hard things that smarter, wealthier, more qualified people don’t have the courage — or desperation — to do.

Do the hard things. You might be surprised at how amazing you really are.

But always remember: it ain’t nothin’ but a thing. Even if it is a hard thing.

Winging It

Golden Rule #27: Embrace Unexpected Change. I Know. It’s Very Hard.

I have learned every single one of the Golden Rules posted during this 31-day challenge. Most of them, I’ve learned the hard way. You know, not by just hearing about someone else’s experience, but instead, by living them in excruciating detail. Some come harder than others. This one, for me, comes very, very hard.

From the time I was very small, I liked to know what was next. I have a well-earned reputation as a champion list maker. I make lists of lists. My parents despaired of me ever progressing beyond some of those lists, I’m sure, but hopefully as the years have gone by, I’ve made some progress.

It took me a long time to realize, the goal isn’t to fit your life to the plan, or the list. Rather, the goal is to master the art of improvising, adapting, persisting, and overcoming. Bonus points for doing that with a good attitude!

I like plans. I really, really like plans. They make me feel so much better. But sometimes we get so focused on our plans that we don’t open our minds and hearts to the unexpected. Like this week, when I got to spend time with these people:

Marley Ian Silo Jess Tim and HillaryThese are some of my favorite people on the planet: Hillary, Tim, Jessica, Marley, and Ian, with the incomparable Silo in Marley’s arms. We had a spontaneous dinner party at Tim and Jessica’s when Ian and Hillary (literally) flew in for a fly-in. Did we have time for a plan? Nope. We just (don’t groan) winged it. And it was perfection, from start to finish.

So. Plans, even the best-laid plans, can, will, and do change, without any warning at all. Does that mean you shouldn’t have a plan? No, not at all. It means, be willing to wing it when plans change. The best things happen that way, and sometimes we end up realizing, like I have, we dreamed and planned too small!

Copper is marvelous when it comes to changing plans. He adapts on the fly, of course, and is willing to change course midstream. He doesn’t pout or hold a grudge. He puts himself wholeheartedly into the new plan, and frankly, he makes all my plans so much better.

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This is what happens when I plan to change my sheets…

If You’ve Got to Have an Attitude, Make it a Good One!

Golden Rule #26: Attitude Really is Everything. So is Timing.

You hear it all the time: “Attitude is everything.” Turns out it’s absolutely true. You can be less than an expert, or less than experienced, but a willingness to learn, coupled with an impeccable sense of timing, will carry you very far in life.

What is the right kind of attitude? We talk about a great attitude, and a positive attitude, and an attitude of gratitude…we hear about it when we have a bad attitude, too. “Don’t give me that attitude, now.” “Watch your attitude, son.” And somehow we’re expected to wade through the attitudinal minefield and figure out what’s good, and what’s bad.

Turns out our attitude is kind of like a barometer other people use to measure us. Sometimes we control our attitude, and sometimes our attitude controls us. We can blame other people, but in the end, our attitude is our responsibility. We can’t own anyone else’s attitude, but we can certainly own our own. And good news here — attitudes can change! We can actually drive the attitudinal bus! It’s hard. It’s really hard. It takes lots of practice and sometimes even saintly older people have been known to have a less-than-stellar attitude.

I was waiting in line at the eye doctor’s office yesterday, a long line of patient gray haired people stretching in both directions around me, and I heard the girl at the desk say, “This isn’t my job. I don’t usually work here. Everybody is in a meeting. I don’t know where anything is.”

All those things were true. I didn’t see stress levels going up too terribly high among the gray haired group. In particular, the couple in front of me was the essence of patience. Patient patients…sorry…it just tickled me. Anyway, the couple in front of me looked like maybe they were in their 80s. They were old. They were wrinkled. They were bent nearly double. She carried a cane. He carried, very precisely, a checkbook, an appointment card, and a pen. They wore sensible shoes with no laces. I thought, oh boy, this is not who I want to be in a few decades.

And then they reached the counter, and the girl gave her same matter-of-fact speech. And the man looked at her, through very thick glasses, and said, after a moment, “Well, you’re just doing the best you can, and that’s all anyone can ask.” And his wife nodded pleasantly beside him. I could see the absence of stress in them, and the calmness in them, and the way it just flowed around all of us like a smooth wash of velvet. The girl whose job it wasn’t checked them in, and sent them to sit near their doctor’s office door, and I found myself just wanting to be near their reassuring presence.

We could have stomped and blustered and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. The girl still didn’t have a clue, nor did she have a great attitude.  But I took my cues from the couple ahead of me, and I’m still thinking about them today. I’d rather echo their influence than, say, that of the person who tailgated me hardcore all the way home from the airport this morning. People. It was 5 a.m. I didn’t relish being rushed, so I turned down a side street to get out of your way.

Maybe attitude is nothing more than thinking about how you’re influencing the lives and thoughts of people around you. A good attitude will carry you further than a bad one, for sure.

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What has Copper taught me about attitudes? It’s rare for me to catch him with a bad one, that’s for sure. Sometimes I know he’s upset, or confused, or disappointed about being left behind (the people in my house tend to come and go. A whole lot.) But he rights himself like a rubber duck in a tub full of water. And I know this for sure: stuff surely does travel up and down the leash. My attitude definitely affects his. All the more reason to have a good one.

Master of the Moment

Golden Rule #25: Enjoy the Ride. The View is Amazing!

Sometimes I think we get so focused on where we are, and where we want to be, that we forget to enjoy the ride along the way. Our life is much more than a series of things we check off a list of things to do each day. So very much more. In fact, I think the best parts of life may be the ones we don’t plan within an inch of their lives. The spontaneous moments that just sort of happen as unplanned happy accidents.

Tonight was just one of those moments. We reunited with beloved friends after several years apart, several years of lifetimes, and the hours flew by much too quickly. We relived old memories and made new ones, and reminded ourselves, there will be a next time, after more moments of lifetimes.

Copper is the master of the moment. He really doesn’t have a visible concept of the past or the future, and he makes the most of the here and the now. It is such fun to see him live his life wholeheartedly — there are no coy games with this beautiful golden boy, and when something captures his interest, he leaps in with all four feet and tail waving gaily.

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I absolutely love how Jack London puts it:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Use your time. Make the most of every moment you’re given. Make a triumph of every aspect of your life. No regrets! And no dry-rot.

Breaking It Down

Golden Rule #24: Make the Minutes Count. There’s Always Something You Can Move Forward.

You’ve probably heard the adage, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. It’s more true than you know. And there’s this, which is so true it’s not just a saying, it’s one of Newton’s Laws: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

A big job that seems overwhelming can be broken down into many manageable steps. For instance, I’ve been groaning and sighing over the state of my disorganized garage for longer than I can remember. I’d tackle it, make some headway, and then it would drift back in again. It was frustrating, overwhelming, and always there.

This summer, when my schedule turned into a weird blend of quiet weeks alone followed by less-than-predictable days of various family members coming home, I realized I had some say in things. Yes, it was still summer in Florida, and too miserably hot and humid to spend time cleaning out the garage. But if I brought the garage into, say, the dining room, a few boxes at a time, nobody was going to be disturbed. Except me, of course.

It started with nine Rubbermaid tubs. Some had Christmas decorations in them. Some had mystery contents. Nine was a manageable number, stacked against the wall. I could go through three or so in the evening after walking Copper. I set up a work station: the table cleared and ready to accept box contents for sorting. A large trash bag under the table, easily accessed. Empty boxes for items to be donated or sold. And a box for kept items to be organized and labeled for future access. I kept a file box of blank index cards handy for labeling and referencing box contents.

I apologized to the dining room almost nightly, as the piles continued to grow. Bags of trash went outside to the trash can. Boxes were loaded into the garage for yard sales and donations.

The progress, at first, was almost imperceptible. I couldn’t imagine ever getting through the load of stuff lingering in the garage. But little by little, evening by evening, weekend by weekend, it began to happen. At one point I had thirty empty Rubbermaid tubs in the dining room. Yes. Thirty. It was stunning. The decisions began to come more easily. I could lift something up and know almost instantly whether I would keep it, toss it, or recycle it. Turns out I had a lot of stuff that, while still useful, had served its purpose in my life and was ready for a new life with someone else. I could keep the memories without having to keep the stuff. That right there was life-changing!

Three garage sales. Yes. Three. In a single summer. (That’s it’s own post right there.) A plan for reorganizing the garage that, while it’s waiting for cooler weather, is going to happen before the end of the year. And so this massive project, which still would have been waiting to be tackled, is well in hand, thanks to a determination to move things forward even in small increments. It didn’t get the way it was overnight. It wasn’t going to get organized overnight. But it will happen.

How did Copper teach me about this particular life lesson? He knows all about making minutes count. When the prospect of doing 20 minutes of homework every day seemed overwhelming, he could break it down into five-minute increments of having fun together. It was a delight to see his mind challenged and his eyes focused on whatever we were tackling together. And after five minutes, if he was losing interest, it was time to stop anyway, and start again with something else a little while later. It worked beautifully. Over the course of many months, those five-minute increments were resulting in a better trained dog (and handler) than I had ever imagined. Years’ worth of work were managed five minutes at a time.

copper sleeping with canada goose