The Little Known Story Behind Macon’s Cherry Blossom Magic

It all began with the wrong tree.

Michael Williams Photography

Michael Williams Photography

In 1949, Maconite William Fickling landscaped his new home on Ingleside Avenue with what he thought were all dogwoods.  IMG_1455Saplings can look alike…and one little tree lost its tag.  The following Spring, amongst a sea of white blossoms,  one tree had beautiful pale pink blossoms.  After researching, Mr. Fickling learned it was the Yoshino Cherry Tree, travelled to Japan, and brought back hundreds for friends in Macon.

Enter Carolyn Crayton.

IMG_3203In 1970, new to Macon, she, too, loved the cherry trees on the Fickling property. She shared her dream with Mr. Fickling.  “I dreamed my street was lined with these beautiful cherry trees.”  His response?  “Carolyn, you make it happen and I’ll provide the trees.”

With her gracious smile, contagious enthusiasm and gifted leadership, this winsome woman infused not only her neighborhood, but the whole city with excitement and love for the cherry trees.  Under her leadership, Macon became the first affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.  In 1982, she organized a city-wide birthday/thank-you party for Mr. Fickling’s generous cherry tree gifts.  Thus, the first Cherry Blossom Festival was born!  33 years and 360,000 trees later, Macon, Georgia is the International Cherry Blossom capital of the world with more cherry trees than any other city in the world, including our nation’s capital.  The International Cherry Blossom Festival, AKA the Pinkest Party on Earth, is ranked as one of the Top 50 Festivals in America and the Top Festival in Georgia.

IMG_3313As emcee of one of the Cherry Blossom events, the Style Show, it was my privilege to visit with this amazing woman last week as we worked together.

The First Lady of Cherry Blossom said she hasn’t thought a lot about what her legacy with the festival will be, but the festival’s slogan – “Love, beauty and international friendship” – is a good summary of what she hoped to achieve.

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“It has remained the message,” she said.  “I hope it always brings the community together and extends friendship around the world.”

As I drove her tree lined street, surrounded by pale pink cotton candy, I felt as if I’d entered a fairy land.  It was there that she told me the “behind the scenes” story of the wrong tree.  I marvel that what was a mistake…the wrong tree…was used to bring unparalleled beauty, commerce and comaraderie to one town.  Once a year, people put aside their differences to enjoy the transformation within our town.

about-the-big-house-1-580x384From the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House, which brings visitors from all over the world, not to mention paying tribute to Macon residents Otis Redding (Sitting on the Dock of the Bay) and Little Richard,

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the Spring Spirit Stroll through historic Riverside Cemetery, where famous (and infamous!)  Maconites who influenced our community “come to life” and tell their stories,

 

 

 

 

 

the new Harriet Tubman Museum,

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the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds National Monument,

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to the many parties, parades and performances all around the city.

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We work together, party together, greet tourists together and re-appreciate our city together.

The blooms may be fading this week, but the magic of Cherry Blossom doesn’t have to.

May we continue in this spirit all year long!

For Speakers: What to Do When Everything Goes Wrong

You know the feeling.

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Your mind goes blank. Your notes get out of order. The lights go down and suddenly it’s too dark to see your notes. Or, as in the case of movie producer Michael Bay at the Samsung Press Conference, the teleprompter fails.

That awful, sinking feeling…time stands still while your audience waits nervously.

AWKWARD.

It could happen to anyone.

So what can you do to make the best of a bad moment?

1. Be prepared.   Know your material inside and out, so that you can present your talk without notes or powerpoint, if needed.

“WITHOUT NOTES?!!!” you may ask. Look, it may not be exactly as you had prepared, but who cares? The audience will never know what you leave out, that is, unless you tell them, which leads to my next point.

2. Avoid calling attention to mishaps.   Unfortunately, in this situation, Michael Bay announces, “The type is all off.” The audience may never have known if he hadn’t told them.

3. Talk about what you know.   There’s a reason you were asked to speak on this subject. So be yourself and casually talk about your topic as if you were talking with a friend over coffee instead of addressing a large group.

Relay a short, humorous anecdote related to your topic or a serious story that sheds light on why you feel passionate about your topic.

4. Keep something going.   Notice how the host handled the situation by trying to keep the conversation going. He offered assistance by asking the speaker, “The Curve…how do you think it’s going to impact how viewers experience your movies?” For a producer of this caliber, it should’ve been an easy question. But Bay was caught up in the “OMG” of the moment, apparently not listening to the host. Instead of grabbing the life preserver, Bay strode off the stage, abandoning both host and audience.

5. Focus more on your audience than you and your dilemma.   Remember that it’s not about you, the speaker. It’s about the listeners and hopefully the value you bring to their lives. The more you and I remember that, the better we’ll handle unexpected moments that threaten to derail our messages.

6. Above all, never leave the stage in a huff.   As a pianist, through the years I’ve seen a few memory slips onstage, from young musicians to professionals. I’ve experienced my share, as well. Remember, no one is rooting for you more than your audience! Storming off the platform makes your audience feel bad and communicates that it was more about you than them.

Conversely, one of the most endearing moments I’ve ever witnessed onstage was when a world renowned concert pianist, despite his best efforts to recover, simply could not find his place. The audience collectively held its breath. In black tux and tails, he stopped, turned to his audience, shrugged his shoulders, gave us an “oh, well” kind of grin and announced, “You shoulda heard it at home…it was great!” The crowd went wild. He picked up where he left off and finished beautifully, to a standing ovation!

Audiences love a good sport, someone who can laugh at himself, especially when it’s evident things aren’t going as planned.

Remember these tips next time the wheels fall off onstage…and push through to deliver value to your listener.  You’re audience will appreciate it so much, you might even get a standing ovation…in spite of the bloopers!

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Connie Carey weaves music and humor to deliver fun, content-rich presentations that lift people up and bring the house down! To energize your next event or for coaching, contact her at connie@conniecarey.com or call 478.250.1177.

Beauty from Brokenness: The Marvelous Mosaic of Your Life

Built in the early 1900’s, my church’s building is a throwback to the days of tall arches, pews and stained glass windows. In the 1950s, a tornado shattered every one of those gorgeous windows.  Replacing the irreplaceable must not have been in the budget at the time, so the priceless stained glass was replaced with simple white, opaque glass.

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But that’s not the end of the story.

From those jagged shards, one inspiring, breathtaking window was created.  A masterful mosaic of extreme beauty!

At the right time of day, brilliant sunlight shines through, lifting the eyes and heart, reminding all that from brokenness sometimes comes great beauty.  

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What about you? Are there some painfully broken shards in your life? Does something from your past cause you hurt and sorrow?   Ask God to give you a glimpse of His perspective.  Then, try running the situation through the grid of Philippians 4:8.  Here’s how this works for me with the thoughts I have regarding the loss of my dad to suicide.

Whatever is true: True, my dad was broken and flawed.  But it’s also true that he is no longer! I choose to picture my father, not in the confused, tormented state he was in just before he died, but as the whole, healthy father he is now (Revelation 21:4).

Whatever is noble: I did not fall through the cracks with God.  His Word comforts me that “all the days ordained for me were written in His book before one of them came to be (Psalm 138:16).  “No plan of His can be thwarted” (Job 42:1).  His plans for me are good, even when it doesn’t look like it (Jeremiah 29:11). What comfort to live free of the “if onlys”!

Whatever is right: To dwell more on my dad’s final moment than his whole life would be wrong, and a dishonor to him. I have many hilarious, tender and proud memories of my dad.

Whatever is pure:  Even in the midst of darkness that overcame my dad, God’s light triumphed in his soul.   I am one happy girl to have learned just weeks before his death that his trust was in the Lord Jesus Christ! It may have been the faith of a mustard seed, but God assures me that it is enough (Matthew 17:20).

Whatever is lovely: To realize that I don’t have to have it all figured out is very lovely indeed.    What joy to know that He holds life’s mysteries for us. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God… (Deuteronomy 29:29). His thoughts are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9) and one day I’ll understand (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Whatever is admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy: Through this, God has birthed in me a desire to bring comfort to others with what He’s done for me. “…[He] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4).

Slowly, God took the shattered pieces of my soul and piece by piece created a mosaic in my heart – one of restoration, healing and compassion for others.  I am the person I am today in part because of the wounds of the past.  I’m not a fan of digging up past hurts for the sake of wallowing in them.  But I do believe that if they are held up to the light of God’s truths, those very hurts become a window through which His glory can shine, for our healing and for the good of others.  Much like Joseph’s words to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done… (Genesis 50:20)”.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the very complex issue of emotional pain.  But a good start is to hold up the pieces of your life to God to let His truth shine through and create a fresh perspective on your life.

If you do, I’ll bet my church’s beautiful stained glass will pale in comparison to God’s marvelous mosaic in your life.

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"Falling UP"

If you or someone you know is struggling with grief or loss, get a copy of my new book, Falling Up, Lessons Learned on the Way Down, here.

“A powerful resource for anyone facing grief and loss.  Connie’s story will bring encouragement and healing through practical steps and solid Biblical truths.  A must-read and must-share!” – Sandra Stanley, North Point Community Church

How to Break the Ice: Small Talk for Big Results

IcebreakerSmall talk, an intimate form of public speaking, can feel awkward! In fact, some see it as idle chit-chat…a waste of time. But small talk is actually the beginning of relationships and can open doors to business opportunities that would otherwise remain closed.

Use these simple tips to make small talk work for you.

1. Have approachable body language.
Make friendly eye contact, both while speaking and listening.
Maintain an appropriate distance. It feels weird when someone invades your space.
Face the person with an open stance (no folded arms).
Put away your phone. Enough said.
Smile and pay attention.

2. Give a friendly greeting.
If you know the person: “Hi, Bob, it’s good to see you.”
If you don’t know the person: “Hi, I’m Amy…what’s your name?” Then repeat their name. This helps you remember the name and also makes the other person feel special. “Sue Williams. It’s good to meet you, Sue.”

3. Have a few starter questions in your back pocket.
Observe something you have in common with the other person. “I see you’re a lefty, too. Are you the only oddball in your family, like me?”
Compliment the other person on something you genuinely admire about them. “I love your purse! Where did you find it?”
Comment on the event you both are attending. “Dr. Jones is a great speaker, isn’t he? Have you heard him speak on other topics?”
Ask a question about the event you both are attending. “Sally gives a great party, doesn’t she? How long have you known her?” or “What’s your connection to this organization?”

4. Remember these general tips:
Ask open-ended questions, rather than “yes/no” questions.
Keep the topics light. This is small talk, not therapy! And small talk should be pleasant, not a sparring match. Avoid potentially controversial subjects. If you hit it off, there’ll be plenty of time for deeper topics later.
Use disclosure with discretion. It’s a good time to tell them you like cats, too. It’s not a good time to tell them you just got out of rehab yesterday! Again, the deeper topics can come later as the relationship develops.
Keep a balance between talking and listening. A good conversation has give and take between the two. Talk a little. Listen a little. Repeat.

5. End gracefully.
When wrapping up small talk, always communicate respect. Don’t leave someone with the feeling that you were just filling time until someone more important walked into the room. Here are a few sample wrap-ups:
“Sue, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. I’m glad to have met a fellow (whatever it is that you have in common). Hope to see you again.”
“Bob, I could chat with you all day, but I see Nancy is about to leave and I want to catch her before she’s gone. It’s been a pleasure.”
“This has certainly been fun talking, but I’ve got a project that’s calling my name. It was great seeing you, Debbie.”

The next time you’re at a conference, networking opportunity, party or gathering of any kind, use these tips to help you break the ice with small talk…for big results.

My Four Most Popular Posts from 2014

I thought I might share with you my four most popular posts from 2014 based on number of views, likes, shares and comments.   I’m humbled that anyone besides my mom would read my blog! (And even more humbled that my post on Robin Williams, My Dad and the Voice of Truth was viewed over 5,000 times in 24 hours).

Think of these posts as an old fashioned covered dish dinner on the grounds!  Some dishes (posts) are light and sweet like that orange whipped cream stuff my Aunt Wee used to make.  Others are meaty (and maybe even a little hard to chew) like a good old hunk of roast beef.   But they all are intended to encourage you and perhaps inspire you to consider everyday life from a renewed perspective.  Thank you for reading my blog…may you find a little cheer in these Life Lessons & Laughter!

Robin Williams, My Dad and the Voice of Truth

robin-williams-jpgFrom his Mork and Mindy days to Good Morning Vietnam to Mrs. Doubtfire and beyond, Robin Williams literally oozed humor and was a master of all things funny.

But addiction and depression are no laughing matter.

When I consider my father’s battle with the same, and then suicide, I think of this:… Continue reading