Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Bluffton Today column
March 20, 2011

On Monday, radio personality Howard Stern was discussing celebrity deaths. Specifically, that when a celebrity dies, all of the ugly, overweight pictorial evidence of said celebrity disappears and they are forevermore portrayed as young, gorgeous, fit, icons.

This discussion came on the heels of Elizabeth Taylor’s death. Suddenly every less than flattering, sickly, tabloid-worthy, image of Ms. Taylor had also passed on. But the saucy vixen who lit up the silver screen in A Place in the Sun and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is indeed hot, again.

I tend to be a planner, so, before I go, I think it only appropriate that I find THE picture that will best define me postmortem. The problem is I hate having my picture taken.

I recently had a photo shoot and I literally lost sleep worrying about it. I worried about what clothes to wear. What would look most flattering. What colors would photograph well. How my hair would hold up after an eight-hour workday pre-shoot. Then, post-shoot I sat in the photographer’s studio as she pulled all of the shots up on her big screen TV (I’m cringing as I type this) and we critiqued them together. Seven outfits. Two hours. Half a dozen props. One hundred pictures. And I gave tentative approval for a small handful.

This is not a slight to the photographer. She is, in fact, brilliant. I love her work. I just don’t love her working on me. (She knows this.)

The reality is, I can’t “look natural” when in fact I am standing in a most unnatural position -- with a big light shining on my face, a fan blowing my hair about, in front of a paper backdrop, holding a rubber chicken, turning my hips to the left, twisting my shoulders to the right, tilting my chin to the sky, smiling, and keeping my eyes open, while all eyes are on me. Seriously, who knew how hard it would be to keep my eyes open? I never seem to have a problem keeping my peepers peppy when reading, or typing, or driving. But, bring out a camera and suddenly I am Chief Blinksalot. What’s up with that?

Collectively, I have spent hours un-tagging myself in Facebook photos. Come on people. You know what I look like in person. So, chances are you know what I should look like in a photograph. If the two don’t match (or I have more than one chin), please don’t tag me.

Ah Facebook, where the formula for the perfect profile picture alludes me. Some people though – well, they just don’t care. Is standing in front of your bathroom mirror and taking a picture of yourself really the best you can do? Where is your creativity? Have you no shame? Do we really want to see your zit cream, tampons, overflowing waste basket, and messy bedroom in the background? I say no. Post an unflattering picture that someone else took. Not the one you took pre-pee.

A recent trip to the Post Office to renew my passport had me in a photo-frenzy. None of my Facebook photos hit the mark. I actually emailed the aforementioned photographer and she ever so agreeably sized my best picture down to the required two by two square.

Unfortunately, it was a no-go. While my eyes were open, they weren’t looking directly at the camera. So Marshall, at the Bluffton Post Office was tasked with capturing the moment. On the fourth try, and through muffled laughter, he finally said, “Just open your eyes really wide.” I obliged. This is why my new passport photo makes me look like a deer caught in the headlights or perhaps a woman with a really bad eye lift. My fear now is that I will have to make that face for every customs official I encounter. Hopefully, they won’t laugh as hard as Marshall did.

I don’t know how I am going to go out. But I do know I’d like a strong photo finish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In A Van, Down by the River

Bluffton Today column
March 16, 2011

On Monday, I came across a Facebook post from Ryan McCarthy, owner of Downtown Deli. It read, “Anybody see a white dodge van around town let me know. It was stolen from the back of the Deli at some point this weekend!”

I had to crack up when I read it, not because Ryan and his wife Leah lost a valuable member of their catering fleet, but because Ryan had such a great attitude about it. So, I called him to get the scoop.

According to all reports (ok, I only got one report), Ryan and Leah were both at the Deli over the weekend, and the white van was still there as of 2:00 p.m. on Sunday. On Monday morning when Ryan arrived for the breakfast shift, one of his employees asked where the hot boxes were. He replied, “In the white van.” (The underlying meaning being - Duh, where they always are.) His employee went outside, came back in, and with a sheepish grin said, “Um, I don’t see the van.” (The underlying meaning being – I know I am going to sound crazy, but the van isn’t out there, dude.)

As Ryan continued to tell me the story, he broke into laughter. “You know the kicker,” he said, “we only had one payment left.” Knowing that, he and Leah had actually planned to buy a new personal vehicle this weekend.

Still chuckling Ryan went on to warn the thief with these words of wisdom --

1. Sometimes, if the battery is getting low, the alarm goes off, just for the heck of it. This will likely bring much unwanted attention your way. (Ryan and Leah learned this two years ago at the Masters when the white van’s alarmed blasted serene Augusta National for two hours.)
2. The battery is going to go low, and may even die, because it needs to be replaced. (That should make for an entertaining moment when the thief calls AAA.)
3. There is a box of Monster Pizza (also owned by the McCarthy’s) Beer of the Month Club membership cards in the back. If you decide to “join” the Club, the suspect pool has just been substantially narrowed, and you’re now the primary suspect, Einstein!
4. For $223.28, the amount of the last payment, we may have sold you the van.

Ryan’s good attitude is a perfect example of someone taking a bad situation and not letting it get the best of him. If only everyone reacted like that when things just weren’t going our way.

Case in point. I was at one of our big-box home improvement stores last weekend, loading up on spring color, only to have my bubble burst by the worst in customer service. The store was as busy as all get out, and the Garden Center checker seemed less than thrilled that she was spending her day at work, while the rest of us crazies jumped on the “it’s spring, we better plant” bandwagon.

As I rolled up to the register, the checker stepped out with her scan gun to assess the load. She lifted her head, looked me dead in the eye, and proceeded to tell me to lift all of the plants for her, so she could scan them.

Pardon moi?

Once I recovered from the initial are-you-freakin’-kidding-me buzz, two thoughts ran through my head, in quick succession. One -- I’m sorry, do I work here now? And two -- Sure, I’ll help, but you’re going to end up in the newspaper.

Frankly, I would have helped anyway. Mainly because my obsessive-compulsive-must-have-things-in-order indicator light would have come on, thus forcing me to make sure that all plants remained as originally organized on the cart. But, the second the checker decided to not ask me, but tell me, to lift the plants, the game was over.

With a harrumph, I begrudgingly lifted all of the plants so that Ms. Checker Outer didn’t pull a muscle or get any dirt on her hands. Who knows, maybe someone stole her car that morning, but should she have taken it out on her customers?

All in all, it is easier said than done to keep your attitude in check. We could learn a lot from Ryan.

Therefore, I think it is only appropriate, that in recognition of this recent grand theft auto, Ryan name a sandwich in White Van’s honor. Ryan, serve it with a side of CHIPS, and the lemonade you made from the lemons that were served to you.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Spill in the Drink

Bluffton Today column
March 3, 2011

I stand by my statement that rodents, a.k.a. ground hogs, should not be predicting our weather.

However, I will also acknowledge that in an utter coincidence, spring appears to have sprung. How do I know? Well, I’ve already had to repair something on my boat. Her maiden voyage of 2011 (in February!) wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. Let me tell you how it all went down. And, by “it” I mean my co-captain, and by “down” I mean, “into the river.”

As you know, the weather has been spectacular the last two weekends. My spring itch came early and I was ready to get Just Mine in the water, and the sun on my face. So, we gathered the necessary accoutrements – food, water, beer (which is really 90% water anyway), music – and we were underway.

We headed out and anchored for a bit, where I promptly took a quick nap – spring sun and the smell of pluff mud are like tryptophan to me. Once my snooze was complete we headed up (or is it down?) the river toward the Spanish Wells point. And that is when we got stuck. Literally. On a sand bar, that I swear to you was never there before.

Co-captain quipped, “I can see the bottom.” Silently I responded, “Thanks Einstein,” and willed him overboard. Much to my delight, he did sink into the sand and 12 inches of 55 degree water to nudge our vessel to freedom. (Apparently 55 degree waters, even if only up to your calves is still devastatingly chilly. More on that in just a minute.) Once clear, I started her up again and began the slow sputter to deeper waters. But alas, we were still stuck.

“We’re still stuck,” I said. And like the true trooper he is, co-captain swung his legs over again and made the quick plummet.

Unfortunately, my calculations were again off and we were actually quite seaworthy and resting upon about nine feet of water. Are you doing the math? Even LeBron James would be completely submerged at this point.

Luckily, co-captain’s cat-like reflexes kicked in - perhaps jolted by the 55 degree shock – and he grabbed onto the side of the boat mere seconds before being swallowed by the frosty beast. What he said next is sadly not fit for print.

What did I do next?

Well, I laughed. Because I was frozen (oh, the irony) and didn’t know what else to do. Frozen. I didn’t even extend a hand, or mind you, a life preserver. Nope, instead I watched him inch himself slowly around to the ladder, still repeating the not fit for print mantra he had adopted one minute prior. It wasn’t until he was back on the boat that I finally reacted. By then, it was a little too late.

Thank Poseidon, that I (obsessive-compulsive-needs-to-plan-every-moment-of-her-life-Courtney) have a man who is so easy going that he just shook off his brush with hypothermia and gave me a smile…

Until he began to thaw and noticed the deep bruising and scratches that began to appear on his forearm. Luckily for me, this was just about the same time that I noticed that he broke the bimini cover clip while tumbling. Whew, we’re even-steven again.

Mr. Bimini Clip should be feeling better any day now. He’s a simple $6.95 fix.

Captain Co-captain however, is still suffering from bruising to his limbs and ego (even more so now that the entire escape is documented in print).

So, as spring continues to flourish and that magical time of year - when our moments on the water begin to outweigh our moments on land - appears, remember:

1. Your GPS may be a liar too.
2. If I catch you in an awkward situation, I will definitely laugh at you. I can’t help it.
3. Stick with a guy who keeps a smile on his face, even after you forced him overboard, and laughed at him, and blamed the whole incident on your GPS.

Smooth sailing, my friends.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Altruistic Islanders: Setting A Good Example

CB/CH2 March 2011

If cleanliness is next to godliness, what is selflessness?

One who is selfless give up their own interests for the greater good. They often think of others, before themselves. They act willingly and generously. They give of their time, their talent, and their treasure. They are not boastful. They seek no attention in return.

In South Carolina alone, the collective efforts of volunteers were valued at more than $2.5 billion, according to, which works in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to compile the most comprehensive collection of data on volunteering and civic engagement ever assembled.

Interestingly, their research shows that despite all the additional stresses of a difficult economy, volunteer service remains strong. In data collected over the last four years, reports that South Carolina boasts 923,000 volunteers, that is 26.8% of our state’s residents. Together, they clock more than 118.5 million hours of service per year.

Locally, there are dozens upon dozens of deserving organizations. Collectively, hundreds of selfless individuals work each day to make our community a better place – a scratch behind the ear for a dog looking for her forever home, a comforting hand to hold, a connection with an otherwise lost teenager, a meal for someone who didn’t know if they would eat tonight, a call for help answered.

Five individuals in Bluffton and Hilton Head – true altruists – are making an impact right here in our backyard. They stand out among the crowd. And deserve our gratitude.

John Walland
Hilton Head Human Association
Now this is a man, anyone would be happy to walk with. However, the majority of John’s walks are with his canine comrades. And he loves every minute of it.

When John Walland retired from his career in the steel industry 11 years ago, and moved from Cleveland to Hilton Head, he didn’t know what to expect. He arrived, sight unseen, having never been to the Island. His wife, Dr. Debra Walland, talked him into the move as she had her eyes on starting a practice in the Lowcountry with a former medical school classmate. John obliged.

As luck would have it, once John was settled, he learned that two of his new neighbors were board members for the Hilton Head Human Association. They got to talking. And then they got to asking – asking John if he would be interested in volunteering. Before he knew it, John was on the road to Columbia to pick-up cat and dog food donations. That was 11 years and 60,000 miles ago.

Since then, John and his wife have added five rescue dogs to the family and John’s involvement in the organization has continued to grow, much like his pack at home. Executive Director Franny Gerthoffer had a hard time putting into words how she feels about John, saying, “The best word in the dictionary doesn’t even begin to describe this man. Every event, John is there. Every fundraiser, his is the first money in the pot. He doesn’t know how to say ‘no.’ He makes our job so easy. He truly loves the animals. He wants to save them all.”

And he tries to do just that. Earlier this year, on his way back from having outpatient surgery in Savannah, arm in a sling, feeling less than 100 percent, he saw a little dog on the side of the road. He urged his wife to pull over. As they got out of the car, John noticed a second dog. Surprisingly, both dogs sat there, side-by-side, wagging their tails, skinny as rails – as if waiting for this angel to rescue them. As you might expect, John loaded them into the car and took them home. So much for the rest that the doctor ordered! John called Franny that night to let her know she’d have two new friends dropping by in the morning.

Franny’s appreciation for John runs deep. “He makes our job so easy,” she says. But, why does John do it? With a warm, humbled voice he says, “It makes me feel good. Everyone needs that in their life.”

Hilton Head Human Association works to improve the lives of homeless dogs and cats while also working to substantially lower the number of animals reproduced or

Raymond Holmes
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry
After vacationing on the Island for 22 years, Raymond Holmes and his wife finally made the permanent move in 2008, lured by one of those iconic 72 degree December days. The Washington, DC area that he had called home couldn’t compete with those numbers.

Raymond’s long career in electrical engineering and computer technology for the Federal Reserve had kept him busy. Now, he was ready to give back. Having spent some time volunteering for the DC Central Kitchen (an organization that served 4,000 meals a week), Raymond knew that food service and culinary arts was an area in which he wanted to contribute.

The Boys & Girls Club of the Lowcountry offered just the opportunity, and Raymond volunteers in their “canteen” as a part of the after-school program. While the literal definition of canteen is “snack bar” so much more happens in that space, according to Raymond. “Food is important, but this is where we really get to know the kids and understand their behavior, their quirks, their personalities, and where we can help. The food is the key to opening that door,” he says.

Even though it is not just about the food, Raymond ensures that the food service standards are beyond par, going so far as to get ServSafe certified through Technical College of the Lowcountry. In fact, he continues to take online classes, and in turn trains the Boys & Girls Club staff in nutrition, sanitation, food handling, and more. “I don’t know what we’d do without him,” Bluffton Club Unit Director, Molly Smith remarks gratefully.

After momentarily searching for the right words, Molly continues by firing off, in quick succession a multitude of reasons that make Raymond indispensible. “He is a great mentor. He shares his wisdom. He helps mold and shape the children, especially the young men. He bridges a 60 year age gap and bonds and connects effortlessly. He also gains much respect.”

Raymond is enjoying every minute of it. “The kitchen is the most important room in the house. It is where the magic happens,” Raymond says with a smile, recalling his younger years, waking up and smelling the breakfast that “Momma” was cooking.

Conversation and connection happen in the kitchen. At the Boys & Girls Club, Raymond is making their kitchen a home.

The Boys & Girls Club Bluffton Unit was established in 1998 to provide a safe and stimulating environment for Bluffton's children during their after-school hours and summer.

Les Wilner
Second Helpings
When Les Wilner moved here from Queens, New York, 14 years ago he was shocked by the need in our community, unable to believe how many people were seeking assistance. Retired from the wholesale food business and looking for something to do besides golf, Second Helpings immediately caught Les’ attention.

Believing that, “this is his time to give back,” Les does just that by coordinating all of the organization’s Bluffton volunteers (a position he has held for more than 10 years). That means, scheduling 48 people, and two delivery routes a day, six days a week. He’s basically running a small company, on his own time.

Second Helpings Executive Director, Peggy Warnke, conservatively estimates that Les has volunteered more than 8,000 hours in his tenure and touts his, “Strong relationship with the food donors and his passion for the agencies to which he delivers.” (The Second Helpings network extends beyond 65 partner agencies.)

For Les, “The thank you means more than anything. Every time we pull up in a truck to deliver food, the recipients are gracious and grateful. Sometimes we pull up to 20 or 30 people just waiting. It was a shock to me that for some folks, cake is a luxury item.”

Even more shocking to Les – who is admittedly, “not the most emotional and affectionate person” - is the fact that a perfect stranger would give him a hug, so appreciative of his effort. It overwhelms Les that he receives a thank you, when in his mind there are many others who deserve the gratitude.
As such, during this interview, Les turned around and told me the story of a woman who is a hero in her own right, a member of a church of only 15 families that delivers 3,000 pounds of food a week. “She’s who we should be thanking,” Les says.

I suspect that the 4,000 people that Second Helpings feeds each day, would want to extend their thanks to Les. And he takes it all with a grain of salt saying, “Charity comes back. If a little old, obese man (his words, not mine), in his mid-seventies can do it, anyone can.”

Second Helpings mission is to collect and thereby rescue nutritious, surplus foods that would otherwise have been wasted, from restaurants, resorts, caterers and supermarkets. Volunteers deliver this food, in a safe and healthful manner, to agencies serving the disadvantaged in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.

Nancy Meyer
Bluffton Self Help
Bluffton has always been a “second home” for Nancy Meyer, whose been vacationing here for 30 years. After she made Bluffton her permanent home a couple years ago, she quickly entrenched herself in the local community. At an event benefiting Bluffton Self Help, Nancy noticed the “ladies in red aprons” (the signature attire for Self Help volunteers), started chatting with them, and said, “I think I’d like to join you.”

Recognizing a good thing when they saw it, the ladies immediately put Nancy in touch with the Executive Director, who wisely put her to work. After some time in the volunteer role, Board President Peter Bromley pulled Nancy aside and asked her if she thought the organization needed a volunteer coordinator. Nancy quickly replied, “Yes,” not knowing that Peter’s next question would be, “Would you like to be that volunteer coordinator?”

“I saw how she connected with people. She takes initiative. She has strong planning and organizational skills. With 60 volunteers on the roster, we need someone to take the lead. It never hurts to ask,” according to Peter. Good thing he did, ask …

Nancy accepted the challenge and dedicates time to Self Help, five days a week, making sure that every volunteers needs are being met. “Everyone volunteer has their own reason for being there, and I want to make sure we are doing right by them,” she says.

Being on site, and seeing how the organization works is particularly rewarding for Nancy. “It’s a pleasure to watch an SUV drive up; two guys hop out, and say, ‘Hi, we read in the paper that you need food. We have a truck full of food.’” Even more rewarding for Nancy, is watching a volunteer greet the donors, help them unload, and make then realize the importance of their donation. “Everyone gets something out of it …”

At Bluffton Self Help the our purpose and mission is to help those in the greater Bluffton area who are in critical need of short-term, documented financial assistance, and to also provide them with the most fundamental needs, such as food and clothing, while urging them to become more self-reliant.

Jack Toady
Hospice Care of the Lowcountry
With a warm voice and an affectionate laugh, Jack Toady immediately puts one at ease. A trademark quality, for a man who volunteers his time, beside those who are watching their own time slip away. A native of the northeast who spent his career as a special agent in the criminal investigation unit of the Treasury Department, one might expect a tough guy. In fact, Jack is the exact opposite.

He and his wife moved to Hilton Head 14 years ago, also lured by warm temperatures and the perk of year-round golf. While the laid back lifestyle was one Jack welcomed, he also felt the need to give back.

Having seen hospice in action for a close friend, he knew that Hospice Care could be the perfect fit for him. Jack spent his first year volunteering in the office, and managing the tedious bereavement follow-up process that is required for each case. In 2007, following some intense training, Jack moved into the caregiver role.

As a Family Patient Volunteer, Jack’s role is to provide company and conversation, to run errands and complete odd jobs, to give the primary caregiver time to his or herself, and in some cases, he just sits in silence, a comforting presence for those in the twilight hours of their life.

Not an easy task – making an emotional connection with someone who you know you will have to eventually bid farewell. Jack has had patients for as short as one week, and some that have stretched beyond a year. He says that each case is different and, “It is very difficult, but when you start talking to people you realize the interesting lives that people lead. More importantly, it is amazing the talent pool of people who have lived right here, our neighbors.”

For Director of Volunteers, Renee Woodruff, “Jack is a super star. He never says ‘no.’ He is compassionate and caring, dedicated to the hospice movement, flexible and always ready to respond and go when needed.”

To Jack, his role is a necessary one. And, “the reward outweighs the emotional toll.”

At Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, the philosophy of care is as much about living well as it is about dying well. The mission is to help patients and their families find the fullness and joy they deserve, even as they face the anxieties of the end of life.

One would be hard pressed to place a value on the selfless acts of this quintet. Their priceless contributions – large and small – resound loudly within our community. How ironic, that they toiled long and hard to enjoy a fruitful retirement. Yet, in retirement, they’ve found true fulfillment through their selfless contributions.