education, family, mom, reflection, writing

For the Love of Reading

“What kind of books do you like to read?”

I have to laugh when I hear someone ask this question, especially to children. Many will answer with a series or author name; a few will respond with a genre. Some will stare blankly with a shrug of their shoulders indicating disinterest in the question altogether. Even in elementary school, students have begun to label themselves by reading ability or interest. Have you ever heard one of these responses?

“I don’t like to read.”

“I’m not a good reader.”

“Reading is boring.”

My earliest memories of books revolve around my mom who was an avid reader. While we never had a formal bookshelf in our home, she would have stacks of books in her closet, under the coffee table, and in various bags in our spare bedroom. I can still see her now, curled up in a corner of the couch, covered in a blanket, hardback book opened with crisp, new pages waiting to be turned.

My mom’s passion for reading trickled down to me in small and meaningful ways. Unfortunately, my love for reading was a late discovery, as I was a product of the Red Bird, Blue Bird, Black Bird grouping of a decades-old educational system that judged my reading ability by lower-level comprehension questions and oral fluency peer comparison. According to my report card, I was an average reader. According to my passion, I was a skilled and reflective orator, retelling and correlating storylines to life lessons, emphasizing inspirational character traits with each story shared.

Since that time, I have easily read hundreds of books in a variety of genres that shift depending on my own life stages. No one requires me to take a test to prove my learning and I am freed from narrow constraints that dictate my reading selection.

I can read any book, at any time, without judgment or expectation.

I am a life-long reader.

From one of my first and favorite novels, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, to the humorous and sometimes horrific insights of Iggie’s House and Blubber by Judy Blume, my early teen years found comfort in learning about people’s experiences: their highs and lows, successes and failures.

In high school, I discovered biblical inspirations, marking my favorite quotes with colorful highlighters that occasionally bled through the other page. Handwritten notes with personal references in the margins reminded me that I am wonderfully made and bound for greatness. I was drawn to personal narratives shared in Daily Guideposts, providing inspiration 365 days of the year. Many of those verses and stories still come to mind today when I face trials and tribulations of living in an imperfect world.

In college, I bought a kit to build my own two-leveled bookshelf. It was made of cheap particle board and a bit wobbly, but it was mine. I quickly filled it with Shel Silverstein poetry books like Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic and treasured young adult novels like Where the Red Fern Grows and Bridge to Terabithia. I vowed to never watch a movie until I had read the book first.

In my twenties, I found great escape in the twisted tales spun by Stephen King and Dean Koontz, developing empathy for characters like Christopher Snow in Fear Nothing. Then my interests took a complete turnaround when I transitioned to motherhood, with a focus on baby board books like Guess How Much I Love You capturing the unexplainable love I had for the newborn baby rocking asleep in my arms.

I read to my child.

For my child.

With my child.

As I had more children, I made sure each had a bookshelf in their bedroom. The first was built by my husband, a simple 2′ x 4′ storage space crafted from pine and custom-sized to fit baby books, which was passed along to each child as they arrived. When a child outgrew the baby bookshelf, another one would appear in their room, magically filled with early reader books, graphic novels, and other books I had found at yard sales or Goodwill.

While there may not have been money to purchase name-brand shoes or the newest game console, there was always money available for books. From Junie B. Jones lamenting her first grade woes to Jack and Annie sharing their treehouse adventures, I tried my best to pass along my mother’s love for reading to her grandchildren.

Years later, when that same mother who sparked my love for reading faced her greatest battle of Stage 4 lung cancer (at the same time my mother-in-law was battling Stage 4 colon cancer), I turned to books like Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant to guide me through my loss and grief. On the day after my mother’s death, I received a package on my doorstep: Driving Miss Norma, the book my mom had pre-ordered for me as a Christmas gift six months before.

Even after her death, my mom was encouraging me to keep reading.

I am now in a season of enriching my educational practice with books like Teach Like a Pirate, Blogging for EducatorsBe Real, Make Learning Magical, Lead Like a Pirate, The Path to Serendipity, Lead with Culture, Professionally Driven and Social LEADia (and so many more – this paragraph could be a blog post in and of itself!) I am discovering the joys of reflective practice and learning from educators who stretch my thinking with their encouraging words.

I can also hear a new whisper on my heart:

“Write and share.”

In the journey from reader to writer, I see the interconnectedness of both, how words consumed and internalized are woven together into expressions and examples bursting forth to be shared. I have learned from writers before me how to scoop up fragments and phrases and mold them into visual experiences that unfold inside a reader’s mind.

To write well, you must be well read.

I am still perfecting my craft as a writer as I share blog posts like this, sparked by writing groups like #CompelledTribe who challenge me each month to keep writing, keep sharing, keep developing.

This time next year I will be an author myself with others holding my book to read. The thought is nearly incomprehensible. I am humbled to join the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. crew as an honorary pirate preparing for her maiden voyage. I can almost see in my mind’s eye my mom sitting on her sofa, wrapped in a blanket, reading my book A Passion for Kindness, her eyes brimming with tears of joy.

It’s a journey that will soon come full circle.

In celebration of #NationalBookMonth this October, I challenge you to share your experiences with books that have made an impact on your life. You may be surprised to discover that your words of reflection may inspire someone to add a new book to their collection! If you share a post, tag me, too – your words inspire me as well!


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grief, kindness

Hearts of Hope

Friends, it’s been a really tough week. 

Last Saturday, as I was putting the finishing touches on my Braille kindness rocks, I received the phone call no one ever wants to receive.

It was my friend, Amy, who teaches students with special needs at our local middle school. She’s also the teacher of my sweet backyard neighbor, Ashton, who was in her care for the past five years. Even before I answered her call, I already knew it was bad news. Tears welled up in my eyes before I could even say hello.

“It’s Ashton. She’s gone.”

The sob that erupted from my soul was loud and ugly, as my body shook in complete and utter anguish. Even now as I’m typing these words, the tears are back again, reminders that my heart is still raw and aching over the loss of this sweet girl.

16 years old.

Gone.

No. No. No.

I spent the rest of the weekend in a daze, the sorrow enveloping me like a cloud of darkness, no light shining through. Painting provided a brief solace, so I picked up my paintbrush and sat at the table, staring at the supplies that were never put away after Saturday morning’s devastating news.

Kindness rocks.

Ashton loved the color pink. In fact, she had her own fundraiser and Facebook Page dedicated to her favorite color: It Comes in Pink. I counted the extra rocks I had in my container and was shocked at the total.

16 rocks.

16 years.

Oh my.

That was my sign. I needed to paint Kindness rocks for Ashton. I pondered for a bit about what to create, what message to send out to the world, then it came to me.

Hope

Ashton’s sixteen years were filled with hope and promise of embracing the joys in each and every day. When her parents, Chris and Laurie, received the diagnosis of Ashton’s condition at nine months of age, they were told she probably wouldn’t live long enough to attend elementary school. Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) disease is extremely rare with only 500 diagnosed cases in the world and no known cure.

And their precious firstborn had it.

In their heartbreak, they made the decision to live life with Ashton to its fullest. Nothing was taken for granted. They watched their precious daughter’s body slowly succumb to the limitations of this disease, and yet they still celebrated life with exuberance.

They went on vacations. Played in the snow. Rode in boats on the river and sat along the shore.

They built a playground in the backyard then added a handicap-accessible swing. They built a ramp off the side of their deck when steps became too much to manage. They replaced carpet with wood flooring and added handles to hold in their bathroom.

When Ashton started to wobble when she walked, she received leg braces, which of course came in pink. When she needed more stability, she received a walker until walking was too much of a challenge. When the time came to transition to a wheelchair, she had to have the one in pink.

Her heart radiated love to everyone she met. She had an incredible sense of humor and often got the giggles at the most inappropriate things. She was a treasure to anyone who ever had the pleasure of being in her presence.

To us, she was simply Ashton. We’ve spent the past twelve years sharing a backyard and I’ve been blessed to see this sweet girl grow up. Her younger sister, Emily, doted on her, their bond of sisterhood stronger than many siblings I know.

Despite the challenges that constantly came her way, Ashton’s determination and perseverance were unmistakable. She showed us all the true meaning of hope and unconditional love.

For Ashton’s rocks, I chose yellow as the background to represent her bright smile and the joy that radiated from the twinkling in her eyes. I painted one pink heart on each rock with the word “Hope” in white, then added a little bit of glitter inside the heart, because Ashton was always a sparkle to anyone’s day. On the back I added “For Ashton” with the date that she became healed and whole.

Sixteen kindness rocks.

Sixteen hearts of hope.


On Monday morning, as I was putting on my makeup, I couldn’t believe what I saw on my brush: one perfectly formed heart staring back at me.

I had to smile at the little Godwink I received, as my heart was still so heavy from Ashton’s passing. It was as if Ashton was sending me a hug straight from heaven.


On Wednesday afternoon following the graveside service, Laurie shared a story with me about how she had gone for a quick run to clear her mind and her digital watch beeped, displaying one lone heart.

No numbers.

No words.

Just one simple heart.


Today we shared in a Celebration of Life service and were reminded again and again of Ashton’s impact on this world in her short sixteen years. Ashton’s physical challenges never stopped her from giving the most precious gifts to others: hope and love.

After the service, we returned home and when time came for afternoon dismissal of school, I walked to the corner of our street, waiting to walk my son home from the bus stop. A car approached and it was Chris, Laurie, and Emily returning home from the service. They stopped and rolled down the window and chatted a bit, as we often do when we pass one another in the neighborhood.

As they drove away towards their house, I caught a glimpse of the sun peeking through the clouded skies above.

There was a heart in the middle of heaven.

And another.

And another.

I fumbled to open my phone and take a photo, the shapes dissipating as quickly as they formed. I watched the clouds shift and slide across the sky and felt the slightest breeze wrap around me.

I believe Ashton sent us her own hearts of hope right in the moment we needed them most.

Can you see the hearts in my photo?

Can you see the hearts in those you meet?

Look harder.

They’re there.

In honor of Ashton Friedl, the family has asked for donations to the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Fund (APMRF) at Notre Dame which is dedicated to finding a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC) disease. For more information, please visit https://parseghianfund.nd.edu/it-comes-in-pink.


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education, kindness

Dots of Joy and Kindness

It started with a simple dot.

My oldest son, Daniel, caught my attention this summer as he pointed to the Braille dots located on floor numbers inside of an elevator. “I know how to read that,” he said, his voice steady and confident. I laughed and reminded him that the numbers were shown on the buttons, too. “No, really, I can read it. I can read Braille.” He traced his fingers across the raised dots and a smile spread across his face. “That’s the number 3. See? It matches the letter “c” with these four dots in front of it.”

I turned to my son and stared in amazement. We had never discussed the Braille alphabet before, nor did we know anyone who read it. I asked him how he learned Braille and he shrugged his shoulders, replying nonchalantly, “I just taught myself.”

This summer as I was presenting my Passion for Kindness PD sessions to teachers in my district, I shared this story and was delighted to meet Debra Reames, who works directly with students with visual and hearing impairments. We had an instant connection, bubbling over with excitement in all the ways we can inspire our students with joy through kindness. Towards the end of our session, she showed me her Braille bracelet and even painted a JOY rock to add to my collection.

The next week my son and I received mail from Debra which included inspirational quotes, printed Braille alphabet cards, and our names typed out on Braille paper. My son was so excited to receive these acts of kindness!

On Saturday, September 15, 2018, also known as International Dot Day for Peter H. Reynolds’ fans, I decided to make my “one dot mark” by creating joyful kindness rocks in Braille to share with Debra and her students.

Using rocks I purchased at the Dollar Tree, a little bit of paint, and a lot of precision with a toothpick, I created four JOY rocks with raised Braille dots that I sealed with a thin layer of Mod Podge on top. Now her visually impaired students can feel joy as they read it, too! (I’m sending them to her on Monday… shhh, don’t tell!)

I had so much fun painting JOY rocks for Debra and her students, I created a few of my own #passionforkindness rocks to scatter around my community throughout the week. You never know when someone may need a little reminder of joy, love, and hope!

Peter H. Reynolds encourages us through his writing to “make your mark on the world.”  While making a difference takes a little bit of effort and courage, it isn’t hard and doesn’t have to be expensive. I try to make my mark through simple acts of kindness, but your mark might be making a meal, calling a friend, or playing a game with a loved one.

Make your mark with time.

Make your mark with joy.

Make your mark today.


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education, grief, reflection

On That Day

 

On that day, I opened the door to my third grade classroom having no idea that our country would be under attack within the hour.

On that day, I marked attendance, taking for granted that every child would be present that day and the next.

On that day, I watched as students unpacked their backpacks and got settled in, waiting for me to teach them lessons they needed to learn.

On that day, I discovered just how important it was to be their teacher.


They were seven and eight years old. They had no concept of terror other than the make-believe monsters that hid under their beds and the shadows that played tricks on them at night. They slept with their favorite stuffed animals and baby dolls and wrote stories about cats and dogs, flowers and friends.

Our day was blissfully normal in every way. In Tennessee, school had begun a few weeks before; we were still getting to know one another. A knock on my door changed everything.

“A plane just flew into the Twin Towers. It’s on TV, but don’t let your kids see.”

Minutes later, I took the students to their specials class, then raced back to my room to watch the events unfold in real-time horror.

Another plane.

Fire.

Smoke.

Collapse.

Chaos.

Shock.

Students returned to class and I had to continue teaching as if nothing had happened. How could I begin to explain that day when I didn’t even understand it myself?

All I could do was hug my students a little tighter, a little longer, reminding them how important they were to me. I told each and every student that I loved them.

It’s been 17 years since 9/11 and I remember it like it was yesterday.

And each year, I receive a message from one of those eight year olds who sat in my class that day.

“Hey, Mrs. Letter. I hope all is well for you. I just wanted to say that every year I remember that day and I remember the conversation we had on the reading mat in your room. I remember the questions we asked and the confusion we all had at what was happening and why those “bad guys” would do such a thing, etc. but I also remember feeling safe in your classroom. I always knew that as long as I was in your class (even from wasps… which you taught us how to ignore when they fly in the portable) and I knew I was loved. Pretty vivid memories for a third grader but that’s the impact you left on me and I thought I’d remind you!”

Some years the message sent is long; other years the message is short and sweet. But for one day of the year we are connected again, teacher and student, with a bond that will never be broken. I am reminded of the life-long impact we have on our students’ lives with our words and actions, even in those moments of unscripted conversations that are raw and real.

We keep our students safe.

We remind them they are loved.

We put on our battle armor and shield our students from a world that is complicated and cruel at times.

On that day, I decided evil would not win.

On that day, I discovered love was louder.


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education, kindness

The Kindness Teacher

This afternoon as I was standing in the checkout line of our local Food Lion grocery store, I heard a sweet voice call out my name.

“Mrs. Letter! Mrs. Letter!”

I turned my head to see a young girl grinning from ear to ear, her arms already outstretched for the hug she knew would come. I stepped to the side and embraced her; her delight in recognizing me almost overwhelming us both. Her two siblings came near, and I wrapped my arms around them as well.

“Mommy, this is Mrs. Letter. She was my kindness teacher!”

The mom smiled at her daughter, then smiled back at me as she said the most wonderful words I had heard all day.

“I know.”

She knows. 

Her mom knows my name.

She knows I am her daughter’s “kindness teacher.”

Maybe there have been discussions at the dinner table of the lessons we shared. Perhaps her daughter retold one of our kindness stories or maybe they did some acts of kindness together, sparked by our kindness challenges throughout the year.

Even though I have never met her mom, and don’t teach her child’s class on a regular basis, she knows who I am and what I’m all about.

That’s the power of teaching with passion. No matter your role or title, you have the power each and every day to impact the life of a child in a positive way. In fact, you can make such a difference that a child will remember your name long after you have touched their life.

Be you with every ounce of passion, love, and exuberance you can share. Because one day there might be a little girl who shouts your name from across a grocery store, introduces you to her mom, and completely makes your day.

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family, kindness, reflection, writing

The Rocks

Months ago my eight-year-old son found a Kindness rock hidden among the bushes at my school when we made a quick visit to play on the playground. “Look, Mommy!” he squealed, his voice filled with the magical wonder of innocence. “This rock is extra-special! We should keep it!” It was painted bright green with blue words across the top. The message contained three words I needed to hear right in that moment:

Seek the treasure.

I placed the rock in the console of my car so I could see it each day, a visual reminder that each and every day holds potential for moments to be treasured. I simply had to shift my perspective to see it materialize before me.

That weekend at church, our pastor gave a sermon about the power of a rock. “If David could slay a giant with one small object, what power do YOU have to overcome the giants in your life?” That question dove deep in my soul and shook me a bit as I tried to wrap my brain around the possibility that I, too, might be stronger than I ever imagined. As we left the service, we were given a large, black rock as a reminder that we could do great things. I placed the “David Rock” as I called it in the same compartment of my car console that contained my treasure rock from days before.

As winter turned to spring, and spring slid into summer, I battled some hefty giants. I was selected Teacher of the Year for my school, spent my Spring Break writing essay after essay, only to flounder in my district interview presentation with one technology glitch after another. I relived sorrow and heartache as the one year anniversary of my mother’s death approached then passed, the weight lasting longer than the date on the calendar page. A few weeks before the end of the school year I was informed that I would now be serving two schools after a decade of only serving one.

I gave my first out-of-district Keynote presentation in June, overcoming the constant battle of perfection and fear of failure. I then transitioned from a 10-month teacher contract to an 11-month technology contract requiring me to sacrifice many precious days of summer break with my children.

But perhaps the greatest challenge I faced during this time was pouring my heart onto the page as I wrote paragraph after paragraph, page after page, chapter after chapter, my manifesto about kindness and its impact on my life.

I am growing my wings from writer to author.

There were days I sat at my computer when the thoughts were jumbled in my mind like a 500-piece puzzle still wrapped in the box. There were other days when the words tumbled out like a waterfall, rushing so quickly I could barely contain the flow.

I cried out in frustration for the words that wouldn’t come; I went through a box of tissues for the words that eventually did.

For six straight months I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Edited.

Revised.

Wrote again.

I doubted my ability to share my story, then sat back in wonder when the puzzle pieces came together, the scrambled shades of blue finally blending together across the horizon. I sacrificed time, energy, and quite a bit of sleep, but what I gained in the process was so much more.

By writing my story, I discovered who I am meant to be.

I submitted the first draft of my book about kindness and now the wheels are in motion.

Early 2019.

It’s really going to happen! I am going to be an author and, perhaps, you will read my story. That is such an exciting, but overwhelming, reality to come! I am overjoyed; I am terrified. Short of childbirth, this is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

For now, I keep moving forward. Keep working towards the goal.

And each day I see the rocks in my console to remind me of my purpose, their shine and shimmer dulled by the sun, but still vibrant in their meaning.

Seek the treasure.

Overcome the giants.

Excellent advice indeed.

If you would like to be the first to know about updates of my book release, join our Passion for Kindness Facebook group or subscribe below. It’s going to be quite a journey for the next six months – I would love to share it with you!

family, reflection

New Car, New Driver

This week our family crossed another summer milestone off our list – our daughter got her driver’s license! For many this may seem like a typical rite of passage for a high schooler, but for us it’s a little different.

Our daughter is starting her second year in college.

For years we’ve heard questions from others.

“What is she waiting for?”

“Has she started driving yet?”

“When are you going to make her learn how to drive?”

The last question still makes me laugh. I’m not sure I can make my daughter do much of anything, especially now that she is approaching her 20’s.

Despite being able to walk at 10 months of age and write her name at the age of three, our daughter has always done things in her own time, when it felt right to her. Thankfully, we realized this trait years ago and have embraced it as part of who she is and who she will become. For some things, like academic success, our daughter has soared as an early riser. For other things, like looking her age, she is a late bloomer.

She is wonderfully made, creating her own timeline as she goes.

I am very different than my daughter. I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license! From the moment I held those car keys in my hand to the time I could reach the gas pedal, I was yearning for the independence only a driver’s license could provide. It was a love I shared with my Grandma Payne; it was a bonus to going to college four hours away from home. Driving was then, and continues to be, one of my joys (even in standstill traffic. Yes, I know I’m odd!)

For years I held on to my favorite car, an immaculate sapphire blue, five speed Honda Civic, in hopes that one day I would pass it down to my daughter as her first car. When months turned into years and we still had no new driver in the house, we eventually realized it would be more advantageous to sell my beloved car, to let it go to someone else who might need it more. After all, I had already moved on and purchased another car and this one was just sitting around idle in the garage.

Today, I would like to share the story of my favorite car, the moment I let it go, and the pay-it-forward act of kindness I shared in the process. I hope it brings a smile to your heart as it did mine years ago.

As for my daughter’s new car? That will have to wait a bit more for us to carve out money in our budget. Until then, we celebrate the summer my daughter overcame fear, stepped out of her comfort zone, and met a milestone with us cheering her on the entire way.


In 2002, almost fourteen years ago, I discovered a new car in my driveway on Mother’s Day. Even though I knew it was being purchased (not quite the surprise Mother’s Day gift that makes for a great commercial), it was still an exciting memory to recall.

We bought a Honda Civic in the same color as my previous Honda Civic and it had exactly 10 miles on the odometer. My daughter, Katrina, was three years old and I grabbed her hand as my husband snapped a photo of our glee that bright, spring morning. (Don’t pay attention to the date listed on the photo – it took me nearly a month to learn how to change the date on my digital camera back then, lol.)

IMG_3537

Today I said goodbye to that very same car.

With 91,730 miles of memories tucked in the folds of its cloth interior, it was time to let someone else make memories, too. My daughter and I stood outside once again, hand-in-hand, and snapped another photo, showing just too clearly how quickly time passes in the blink of an eye.IMG_3523

I decided to leave a surprise for the new owner, a young man who was very appreciative to have a reliable ride to work, and placed it in the glove compartment to be discovered after he drove away.

IMG_3541

IMG_3542

Time is filled with changes. We can choose to be sad, or we can appreciate all the memories made in the time we had. For me, I prefer to celebrate everything, big and small, even if my loss is someone else’s gain.

It brings me joy to know that this man will be happy with his new car and can take a moment to celebrate, too!

Reposted from http://celebratekindness.wordpress.com


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family, travel

Sweet Exploration

Do you remember what it was like to be “footloose and fancy-free?” Yes, that’s a cliche and to be honest, I’m not even sure what fancy-free even means, but that phrase brings instant memories of my younger years: Kevin Bacon, 80’s music, and a LOT of memory-making with my friends.

Now that I’m a mom of a college student, I have to remind myself that my daughter is creating her own “footloose and fancy-free” moments which may not mirror mine. We are completely different in so many ways. Extrovert/Introvert; my cup is fueled by crowds, she needs quiet time to decompress. One thing we share, however, is the joy of traveling.

Last week Katrina showed me a map of our state with key locations marked from east to west, north and south. “I’m going on a road trip with friends,” she announced, “We’re going to see which place has the best ice cream.”

 

If I could freeze this moment in time, I would capture it in my heart forever. The joy on her face, the excitement in her voice, was absolutely priceless. She didn’t need her mom to help her make decisions of where to go or how to get there. She was embracing a spark of exploration and making it happen. Her joy was my joy.

It was an 11-hour road trip across the state of Virginia with six stops along the way. From waffle cones to paper cups to milkshakes with straws, the girls tasted their way on the sweetest journey of their teen years. Take a peek at the video below to see their adventures!

In the book Live, Love, and Explore, Leon Logothetis shares his experiences of traveling around the world, meeting everyday people, and living life to the fullest. One of the many lessons he shared along the Way of the Traveler rings true:

Once you start being yourself, you’ll be happy wherever you go.

What makes you happy? What brings you joy? When was the last time you felt completely enraptured with the life you lead? Whether it’s walking along a path with a gentle breeze or taking an 11-hour road trip with friends to decide which shop makes the best ice cream, make your memories now. Carve out time to do the things that lift your spirit and soothe your soul.

Embrace life and all it has to offer. Do something a little crazy, just because it makes sense to you. Even on the busiest of days, take time for yourself and connect with those moments that make you whole.

Breathe.

Smile.

Love.

And if you happen to find yourself near the place where I-64 and I-81 converge, take the road less traveled and visit The Split Banana, Co. I hear they have really great ice cream.


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reflection, writing

Forced Update

It was inevitable.
I pushed “later” every time the pop-up appeared.
No. No. No.
Not now. 
 
Later. 
 
Remind me tomorrow.
 
I had broken the cardinal rule of tech savviness with more than a dozen tabs open in Google Chrome, frantically working towards a deadline when the inevitable happened.
I no longer had a choice to make. 
 
The screen went dark. A white apple appeared.
Forced update.
I stared back at the screen, the small white progress bar inching slowly to the right, my writing progress halted by the same technology that allowed it to exist.
I got up and walked a lap around my downstairs, then sat back down again.
Updating.
I refilled my coffee, knowing it would grow cold before I could finish even half of it.
Updating.
I went upstairs, put in my contacts, twisted my hair up and stared at my reflection in the mirror.
Work in progress.
I saw a few new freckles across the bridge of my nose as I peered closer in the mirror, then smiled as I remembered my childhood dream of having my freckles join together so I could finally be as tan as my friends.
Forty-five years worth of freckles. Still waiting on the tan.
I returned back to my writing desk to a screen that was nearly unchanged. Delayed updates equate to more time needed.
Time.
Summer time.
Family time.
My time.
Work.
This summer, my time is all mixed in a muddle. Nearly every second of every day is accounted for interspersed with planned activities to provide a sense of balance and reduction of guilt. I’m writing, which brings me immense joy, but working through tough topics that make my heart bleed on the page.
I am discovering I’m not as invincible as I thought.
As I look around my home, I see all the things that need my attention: the carpet needs to be vacuumed, the dishes washed, the laundry sorted, the toys picked up and put away. Then I look back at the dark screen on my laptop and ask myself aloud: “Is all this even worth it?”
Yes.
Yes.
Yes.
It is worth it.
It is worth the time to tell this story. It is worth the heartache to share vulnerability. It is worth the schedule overhaul, the shift in responsibilities, the lack of sleep, lack of strength, lack of confidence to get these words to the world.
It. Is. Worth. It.
My writing journey is unlike anyone else’s and paradoxically just the same. I’m a small town girl with big city dreams and fears that rise higher than skyscrapers.
I am swimming in an ocean of change with no lifeguard on the shore. The ebb and flow of tidal waves that crush my soul and pull me under are the same waves that bring me back to the surface to catch my breath. I have to remind myself to swim with the current, not against it. I have to remember to breathe when I have the chance.
The light of my laptop is bright again, the cursor blinking for me to log in.
Update done.
 
Restart completed.
 
Back to writing again.
There are times in our lives when we need a forced update to renew and refresh. Today I chose to embrace that which I couldn’t control and find joy in the why.
I even took time to write a story about it, too.
Writing is joy.
Sharing is joy.
Today I am thankful for those moments in our lives that force us to pause and reflect.
Today I am thankful for you, taking time out of your life to read the thoughts in mine.

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ITRT, kindness, reflection, travel

What If?

During the ISTE Conference in Chicago this past week, Katie Martin challenged us to answer the question, “What if?” I swirled around this question during her keynote, then posted my response on Twitter:

The power of ‘What if’ is the belief in hope and endless potential! #WhatIfISTE18

Later that evening, as my teammates and I traveled through the city, I pondered this concept of “What if” as I looked at those around me.

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What if I complimented the person making my meal?

As a tourist in the city, I knew I would have to order a Chicago style hot dog before I left. Even thought I’m not a huge fan of hot dogs, I was intrigued by the combination of beef, onions, pickles, tomatoes, peppers, and mustard. While visiting Navy Pier, I stood in line at one of the many food stands to order this local fare.

As I waited for the cashier to give me change, I was struck by the precision of the cook who layered each ingredient over my hot dog. When my number was called and my meal provided, I was awestruck at the overlay of colors and textures between the edges of the poppy-seed bun.

After my meal, I returned to the counter to compliment the cook and saw she was creating an entire tray of Chicago Dogs and I was mesmerized once again by the care she placed in her handiwork. I told her how much I appreciated the time she took into creating these hot dogs, even referencing one of my Grandma Payne’s favorite quotes: “Food always tastes better if it looks pretty.”

I asked if I could take her picture, to which she agreed, and then asked if I could text her the image. I wanted her to see just how beautiful her work was from the view of a stranger. This is the photo I captured in the moment.

What if I complimented the person making my meal? Perhaps I might make someone else smile at the beauty of their creation.

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What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? 

My teammates and I ventured to Navy Pier by bus, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. When it was time to head back, the weather had changed from warm, sunny skies to a drizzly, bleak rain. It made for a long evening of travel as we switched buses and waited at bus stops, but we huddled together and passed the time chatting and checking our Twitter feeds.
As we boarded our last bus for the evening, we sat near a young man who smiled, but was non-committed for conversation. My teammates and I were in a jovial mood despite the rain (we really are quite a happy bunch together!) and continued to reflect on our day with shared stories that made us laugh all over again.
At some point the young man shook his head and laughed at something we said, so we included him in our conversation. We asked him questions about the city, then giggled when he cracked a few sly jokes of his own. The banter between my team and him was lighthearted and fun, and it made for a great way to pass the time as the bus meandered from one block to the next.
We teased him about his tiger pants which started another round of laughter as one quip led to another, this stranger now a welcomed member of our traveling crew.
He caught my eye and asked if I liked wall art. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by the question, but I smiled and said, “Of course! I love all kinds of art! Street art, wall art, children’s art…” As I responded, he unwrapped the grey shirt in his lap to reveal a rolled-up paper cylinder held together by a rubber band.
As he removed the binds and unrolled the paper, I literally gasped at what I saw. It was a beautifully drawn face with amazing detail, right down to the perfectly drawn eyelashes.
“I made this,” he said. “Look close at the eyes. There’s a person inside.”
I leaned forward and gasped again as I saw the silhouette of a face in the small pupil of the left eye. It reminded me of the cover of Mandy Froehlich’s new book, The Fire Within, with a flame embedded deep inside.
“This is incredible!” I exclaimed as I peered again at his masterpiece.
Meet Julius. He’s 23 years old, lives in Chicago, and masterfully kept his artwork dry and safe from the rain using a plain, cotton shirt. He also received the nickname “Juice the Tiger Tamer” from our team who practically adopted him as one of our own.
I encouraged him to take photos of his work and showcase them on social media, then gave him my business card to stay in touch. This young man has potential for greatness and I told him just that. The smile on his face as we went our separate ways was priceless.
What if I spoke to a stranger on the bus? Perhaps I could inspire them to see the talent and greatness they already possess inside.
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What if I gave away something of value?

When our conference time was complete, my teammates and I took the train back to the airport to head home. We each had purchased a 7 Day commuter transit card, but had only used four days. As we reached our final destination and exited the train terminal, all nine of us gave our transit cards to strangers waiting in line to purchase their own.
“Excuse me, do you need a card? It still has three days worth of credit.”
Oh, how I wish I could have captured the surprise and joy on the faces of those who received our transit cards. They were so excited! We saw expressions of awe and appreciation and one teammate even received a spontaneous hug for her kindness.
The entire exchange lasted less than one minute, but left us all with happy hearts.
What if I gave away something of value? Perhaps it might lighten the load of someone else who needs to be reminded that there is good in this world.
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What if I helped someone at the airport? 

Later that afternoon, as I walked down the airport terminal to stretch my legs, I saw a woman pushing a wheelchair with a younger woman inside. I assumed they were mother and daughter and started to look away when I noticed the woman in the wheelchair trying to recenter a rolling suitcase that had unexpectedly turned on its side.
“Let me get that for you,” I said as I rushed to her side with a smile. “Those luggage bags can be tough to pull sometimes.”
There was a slight protest at first, but I reassured her that I really did want to help and it wasn’t an inconvenience. I noticed the mom had her luggage cart wrapped around her arm so she could pull it while also holding the handle of the wheelchair.
“May I have that suitcase, too? I don’t mind.” The mom looked at me, first in shock, then appreciation, as she untangled herself from the constraints of the plastic and metal.
“We’re looking for a place to eat,” she replied and I offered to walk with them until they found a restaurant to dine. The airport was crowded without many options for seating, so I volunteered to scout out the chosen place for a wheelchair accessible table.
I saw a man about to sit at a long, low table, and asked if he was using the two additional chairs at his side. He hesitated, then said he was saving them for two friends. I explained that I was trying to find seating for a mom and daughter in a wheelchair and this table was a perfect height. Could they possibly sit at the end?
He agreed and as I turned to walk away and notify the mom, the most amazing thing happened. Another person sitting near had overheard our conversation and offered to scoot down so the man and his two friends could eat there, thus making the entire table available for the mom and daughter.
It was an incredible gesture of kindness! (I talk about this “kindness trifecta” in the book I’m writing, but it was such a joy to see it happen in person!) The mom wheeled her daughter to the table, then commented on the shirt I was wearing, a gift donated by The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation.
“You don’t just wear kindness. You ARE kindness”
I nearly teared up at her words.
She went on to describe why her daughter was in a wheelchair, explaining she had just received surgery to relieve the excruciating pain she had struggled with since the age of twelve.
Her daughter was 20 years old.
 
The only cure for her pain was a complete hysterectomy.
 
The weight of her words and the impact of “What if” could be seen on both their faces. It was a life-changing surgery complete with the range of emotions one might expect from a young woman being told she will never have children of her own in a traditional way.
Empathy and compassion flooded my heart as I looked at her daughter and spoke from the heart. “It’s ok the grieve the loss. Give yourself permission to be sad. Sometimes life is like that. We get tossed major curve balls that don’t make any sense at all and they mess up all the plans we thought our future would be. Your future will still be bright. You will still have joy. It will just look a little different than you thought before.”
The daughter nodded her head in agreement then shared her plan to eventually become a mom through a surrogate. The smile on her face when she talked of being a mom reflected my own heart as a mom of three kids (one of whom is almost her age.) In that exact moment, the world melted away and we were just three women, connected by kindness, sharing the wonders of motherhood.
Hope.
 
Potential.
 
Empowerment.
 
What if I helped someone at the airport? Perhaps it would remind me of all the things I have to be grateful for in my own life.
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What if the world could see the ripple effect of their kindness?
What if others could know the impact of a smile, a kind word, a helping hand?
What if each person reading this story did one kind thing for someone else?
What if the world could be a gentler, kinder place to live?
I believe in the power of hope and endless potential. I also believe in the power of WE.
We have the power to plant that seed of kindness in someone else to grow and flourish.
We have the power to inspire others to create a course of positivity and hope.
We have the power to make a difference in the lives of others and change the world for good.
All it takes is one simple choice, one simple action.
What if?

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