education, kindness, REBkind, travel

Texas Kindness: Kids Deserve It

The second stop of my kindness tour with Barbara Gruener was visiting Webb Elementary School to meet principal, Todd Nesloney, author of Stories from Webb and co-author of Kids Deserve It and Sparks in the Dark.

I met Todd in 2014 when we both presented Ignite sessions for the ISTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. In fact, it was his presentation about Genius Hour that sparked my passion project collaborations with teachers in my school! It was a delight to see him again and thank him for the positive impact he’s had on my teaching journey.

Webb Elementary in Navasota, Texas is another “must-see” school. We were delighted to receive a tour by a fifth grade student named Eli, whose smile could light up the darkest room. We began our tour in the office where a massive Lego wall spanned more than half the wall. Barbara snapped a photo of Eli and I adding a few creations of our own to the wall.

Eli proudly explained the meanings behind their “House Families” and patiently watched as Barbara and I took dozens of photos. We learned that families include students from every grade level and they remain in these families for the entire year with school-wide challenges at regular intervals.

As we were admiring the giant wall paintings, several kindergarten students passed by and excitedly announced that their family had won the latest challenge and they were chosen to go on a field trip together! The pride they had in sharing this reward with us was precious!

Love in many languages.
One of their family emblems hand-painted on the wall.
Each family emblem and name is displayed at the front of the school.

As we continued our tour, we saw many Disney references, the chosen theme for this school year. We also admired their “I Am” mirror wall (I couldn’t resist looking into the ‘kind’ mirror!)

“I am Enough.”
“I am Kind.”

I love the way Webb Elementary makes use of each nook and cranny to make school an inviting place to be. A corner reading nook caught my eye as did the colorful canvases displayed throughout the building. I especially loved the family canvases shown at each teacher’s door, spotlighting personal families, too.

Random Reading Spot with canvases on walls.
Canvases of teachers and their families outside of each classroom door.

At the conclusion of our tour, we met back with Todd and spun the color wheel to determine which family we would join. It was a joy to get a sneak peek at Webb Elementary and learn more about their school culture!

A special thanks to Barbara Gruener who volunteered to drive the distance to Navasota and back. We were able to enjoy the Bluebonnet wildflowers along the way and geared up for our next stop: meeting Jet Stream Jax who inspired our Kindness initiatives in the Fall of 2017!

More Texas fun to come in my next post! Stay tuned!

In March, I traveled to Houston, Texas as part of my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence, the first of several trips I will complete this year and next. My proposal, “Cultivating Kindness for Global Impact” takes me to various locations in the United States and Canada to dive into learning opportunities that align with my passion for kindness. One of the perks of these trips is meeting Kindness Cultivators, many of whom I spotlight in my book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn. This week and next I will be sharing stories from my journey so you can “travel” with me, too!


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Texas Kindness: Kind Kids

On my first #REBkind trip, I visited Houston, Texas and neighboring locations to meet kindness cultivators and learn more about character education. I was blessed beyond measure by the hospitality of Barbara Gruener (@BarbaraGruener), author of What’s Under Your Cape: SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind. She not only opened her home to me as a warm, welcoming bed-and-breakfast, she offered to drive me around town to meet others and take in the local sights around Friendswood, Texas. Although I was in town for less than three days, we made the most of every moment!

*Fun Fact for you: Friendswood began as a colony created in 1895 by two Quakers, Frank Jacob Brown and Thomas Hadley Lewis, “to establish a community dedicated to God.” (The term “Quakers” and “Friends” are often used interchangeably.) Almost one hundred years later, I would be married in a Friends church in my hometown! What a delightful connection to discover!*

Our first stop on this kindness adventure was teaching a kindness class! Barbara had already arranged to teach a lesson with Wendy Hankins (@MrsHankinsClass), but unbeknownst to Wendy, I was joining in the fun, too!

At Kirk Elementary School, they have a school-wide genius hour where students get to follow their passions and join a mixed-age group for a themed lesson. Wendy and her coworker, Christine Owings (@MrsOwingsClass), host a kindness club called Kind Kids (@KindKidsAtKirk) and Friday was their first lesson with a new group. It was perfect timing for a surprise visit!

I wish we had taken a photo of Wendy’s face when she came through the door and saw us sitting in her school’s office! It was the first time we had ever met, but we hugged as if we were long-lost friends!

After introductions, we made our way back to her class and Barbara and I blessed Wendy with a copy of both of our books. We took a few photos, then watched as Wendy welcomed her students to class, listening to sounds of “Limbo” playing through the laptop. We even had a chance to check out the students’ stellar dancing skills, too!

When students switched to their Genius Hour groups, our “class” had expanded to nearly 40 students! WOW! I read one of my favorite kindness stories, “Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed” by Emily Pearson, then Barbara and I shared our personal experiences with kindness, specifically how one ordinary deed could make a monumental impact on someone else’s life.

We discussed the hurricane that came through their area last school year and showcased Barbara’s student Jet Stream Jax (both of whom are spotlighted in Chapter 3 of A Passion for Kindness.) We showed them Jax’s Kind Coins video and talked about kindness rocks, kindness shirts, and how we can all become kindness cultivators, too.

Wendy showed them where their Kindness Club was mentioned in my book  (p. 113) and Barbara led a visualization activity so students could see the ripple effect of kindness over the course of one month. The students were excited to start sharing kindness with the world!

Following the kindness lesson, as students switched back to other classrooms, Wendy showed us the Kindness Quilt displayed in their school’s hallways that students had made last semester. (Could you tell it was created with 12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper? So quick and easy!) Before we left, I gave Wendy a few things for her students as little reminders that every act of kindness matters.

Barbara and I were filled with such joy from our visit with Wendy, Christine, and the kind students of Kirk Elementary! It was a wonderful way to start our morning of kindness!

In March, I traveled to Houston, Texas as part of my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence, the first of several trips I will complete this year and next. My proposal, “Cultivating Kindness for Global Impact” takes me to various locations in the United States and Canada to dive into learning opportunities that align with my passion for kindness. One of the perks of these trips is meeting Kindness Cultivators, many of whom I spotlight in my book, A Passion for Kindness: Making the World a Better Place to Lead, Love, and Learn. This week and next I will be sharing stories from my journey so you can “travel” with me, too!


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Car Compassion

Having reliable transportation is a necessity in this day and age. From work to play, we all need the certainty that we can get from here to there.

My car is relatively new… well, new in my head. I received my Honda CRV on Mother’s Day 2015, a replacement for the family van I had used for my three children when my second job was affectionately referred to as “Mom Taxi.” I was delighted with the upgrade as I’ve always loved Hondas and knew it would be a great investment. (Take a peek at my Honda Civic post if you want to know more about my love for Hondas!)

For the past three years, I’ve driven this car with very few issues. Then in September 2018, while sitting at a stoplight less than a mile from our home, we were rear-ended and pushed into the middle of the intersection, a result of a three-car accident.

The first responders were gracious and kind, checking on all of us to make sure we didn’t have any injuries. Of the three cars involved in the accident, ours was the only one that wasn’t totaled by the impact.

First responders showed kindness to our kids in the backset making sure they were OK from the car accident.
First responders showing kindness as they check on our children in the backseat.

It was Labor Day and we were headed to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. We quickly figured out alternative transportation so that our vacation day wasn’t ruined, and finally made it to our destination. Unfortunately, we missed our scheduled entrance time where we had pre-purchased tickets (five hours late!)

A photo of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

As we explained the situation to the man guarding the entrance door, he whisked us inside to look up our reservation. Then, with a smile on his face, he let us know that he refunded the cost of our four tickets. We could enjoy the museum for free! (We later learned his name was Unray Headon, the director of the museum!)

A photo of me with the the director of the International Spy Museum as he hands me a printed receipt with our admission tickets comped.
Car compassion = free admission!

Our car was rebuilt and I was back on the road again.

In October, I had my interview for the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence to answer questions before a panel about my love for teaching, my passion for kindness, and my project proposal set before them.

That afternoon was a bit of a mad scramble as I met with a teacher after school, providing a short personalized professional development session, then had to pick up my youngest child from daycare before heading home to change clothes and drive across town to arrive in time for my scheduled interview.

As I drove across a bridge, my son safely secured in the backseat, I heard a pop and felt the car shake. I quickly guided my car to the side of the road right after the bridge and got out to assess the damage. Sure enough, my back rear tire was flat.


My first instinct was to panic and scream, “I HAVE TO BE AT THIS INTERVIEW!!” Instead, I calmly called my husband, who was on his way to the high school to pick up our other son from cross country practice. My next call was to my dad.

“Can I borrow your car? I need it immediately!” It took a few moments for my words to sink in, after all, how many forty-six year old adults call their dad and ask to borrow the car? We quickly worked out logistics and I made it in time for the interview.

Best of all, my dad was there when my school district honored me as a 2018 R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence recipient. Without his kindness, I would have never made it to the interview and would not have had an opportunity to share my passions with others or win this prestigious award.

A photo of me with my dad as I'm holding my R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence certificate from my school district.
Me and my dad (Pappy)

What caused that tire to deflate in an instant? An unbelievably sharp piece of metal that could have caused even more damage to someone else.

A sharp piece of metal that was wedged in my car's tire.
This was wedged in my car’s tire.

In November, as I was in a planning meeting with two other teachers, I heard an urgent call over the loud speaker. “If you drive a Honda CRV with license number… please report to the faculty parking lot immediately!” My stomach instantly dropped because I knew it was my car.


As I approached my car, a small crowd started to gather, curious to see what happened. Apparently a truck had backed into a parking space and gave my car a little “love tap” with the hitch on the back of his vehicle. There just happened to be a police officer there in the moment who took down the information and reassured me that the damage to my car was minimal.

A photo of another car's hitch pressed against the front bumper of my car.

Several teachers offered empathy and compassion as they inquired about my car, checking in with me that day and the days that followed.

Remembering the superstition, “Bad things come in threes,” I figured I had paid my car troubles’ dues and could breathe a little easier.

Until this week, when my car wouldn’t start in the daycare parking lot.

As I sat there trying to start the ignition, a man walked past the front of my car and approached my driver’s side window. “I don’t think that’s going to start,” he said. “If you want, I can give you a jump and see what the problem might be.”

Fifteen minutes later, I was back in business, thanks to the kindness of this complete stranger who saved the day! (I later learned his name is Tyler with TowTrans – if you need a tow from kind people, check out their Facebook page!)

A photo of me and Tyler, the man who jump-started my car in the daycare parking lot.
Tyler saved the day!

I am reminded of Fred Rogers and the story he shares of his mom’s advice in times of distress: “Always look for the helpers… There’s always someone who is trying to help.”

Today, as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I am reminded of the importance of paying-it-forward by the words he spoke so eloquently: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”

Empathy and compassion are the cornerstones of kindness. May we all look for opportunities to uplift and inspire human kind.


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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.




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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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.



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.


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.

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.

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.
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.
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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As a child, I was fascinated by big words. I would sing the song, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and ponder the enormity of such a word with fourteen syllables. When I encountered a new word in my reading, I would pause and wrap it in my mind, looking for patterns in the spelling, searching for ways I could break it down into chunks to spell it correctly in my own writing. I was determined to spell enormous words with ease, but it was a struggle to simply memorize letter after letter to form one complete word.
In fifth grade I received a notepad with “et cetera” printed on the bottom right corner. It was the first time I realized the abbreviation “etc.” was spoken as words and now I could spell it correctly. Wow! The light bulb when off in my head.
A few years later I had an English teacher share her technique for spelling “onomatopoeia.” She drew two stick figures on the board, one named Mat and the other named Poe, facing each other. Then she drew speech bubbles over their heads to show their conversation. That’s when I learned that I was a visual speller, spelling best when I “see” the words in my mind.
I discovered a love for Scrabble in high school and requested the Deluxe Edition as a birthday gift one year. I felt very mature handling the velvet red cloth bag that held the smooth wooden tiles and begged for people to play with me so I could rotate the game board to them when it was their turn. That same game has since traveled with me through four time zones and nine residences; now my children are discovering the joy of spelling words together.
Today we live in a digital age and the traditional game of Scrabble has been replaced by Words with Friends. Strangers around the world are joining in the game of spelling new words, building one word off the next, sliding letters across the screen.
You can imagine my delight when I discovered magnetic Scrabble tiles we could bring on our trip and place on our Disney cruise cabin door. What better way to engage with other cruisers than to “build” a Scrabble game together?
We placed the letter tiles on the bottom of our door and got the game started with some basic words.


I will admit there was a little apprehension when we began our interactive game with strangers.
“Would anyone join in our game?”
 “Would someone place an inappropriate word?”
 “Would people think we were weird?”
We quickly dismissed our concerns, deciding it was worth the risk to have a little fun with others.
At the end of the day, we were ecstatic to discover new words on our game board! The surge of excitement in my children was a sight to behold! What word would be added next? Who is playing our game? Children? Adults? Are they having as much fun as us?
So we did it the next day. And the next. And the next.
Each day guests interacted with our door. We would catch a glimpse of them as they were passing by, taking a moment to read the words made and adding one of their own. We would see entire families gazing at our door with sentiments like, “That’s so cool!” and “I wish we had thought of that!” One woman even posted a photo of herself playing Scrabble on our door to a Disney Cruise Facebook group commenting about the fun she had creating new words in our game..
It might seem a bit unconventional to put a Scrabble board on your cruise ship door, but we did it anyway and it was a success! Imagine that!
Embrace the uncertainty. Take the leap. Bring fun into all you do as you take your passions and share them in a new way. You might be surprised how much joy your simple act can bring to someone else’s day!
Below are the results of our collaborative game we “played” with other guests aboard the Disney Dream. To quote Steven Anderson, “Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant!”



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It’s a Small World

I love meeting new people. I’m intrigued by life experiences, by commonalities and differences, and I feel the more people I interact with the more my scope for acceptance and understanding expands. While traveling on the Disney Dream, we learned that there were 1,500 employees (cast members) representing 66 countries working on our ship. WOW!

I love that all cast members wear name tags with their first name and home country listed beneath. It was a great conversation starter as we got to know our servers, stateroom attendants, and activity guides.

On our second morning, we stopped in the Bahamas and received an impromptu tour of the city as we traveled by bus. Our driver pointed to the colorful flags decorating the government buildings and explained that they celebrated their national day of Independence the day before, on July 10.


Their country, independent from the United Kingdom for a mere forty-four years, has had their share of highs and lows. Our driver shared stories about their history, their healthcare system, even the impact of tourism on their economic growth the past decade.

The information fascinated me. I was intrigued by their customs and celebrations and how they compared to those we hold sacred in our own country. I wanted to learn more and showcase some of their cultural traditions to my children, to broaden their perspectives of the world around them.

This led me to curiosity about the guests who were sharing in our Disney cruise. Where were they from? How diverse were we as travelers? My children and I placed a whiteboard on the door to our cabin encouraging guests to share where they were from. Imagine our delight when the board was filled in a matter of days!

While many of our fellow travelers were from the United States, our list of locations spanned all four time zones, east to west. We even had a family from Germany and another from Canada stop to add to our board. So great! We located all the places on a map and reveled in the opportunity to mingle with people from around the world.

We were exposed to other languages all around us from guests chatting with their friends and families at the pool, in elevators, and along walkways. The announcements were shared in multiple languages as well, showing us the importance of bilingual skills. This exposure to language was a great springboard to conversations about diversity as my family engaged with others from Singapore, Colombia, and Norway.

My challenge to you today is to expand your circle of diversity. Connect with a stranger who lives in another state/country or teaches a different content area. Follow a blog written in another language and use Google Translate or some other digital tool to translate the content for you. Dig a little deeper to read about other countries and traditions, then share your learning with others. Step out of your comfort zone and embrace the diversity that makes our lives richer, fuller, more complete. It’s a small world, indeed! Embrace it!


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Be Our Guest

This week and next I will share my reflections from a recent Disney Cruise and the lessons I learned throughout my travels. If you’ve never been on a cruise before, or even if you’ve been on ten, I hope you will join me as we sail the seas together!
The first thing you will notice as you embark on a Disney Cruise are the lengths they go to make you feel welcome. From walking through the trademark Mickey ears, to photographing your family with a “Welcome” backdrop, to announcing your arrival as you cross into the gorgeous main atrium, you know this will be a vacation like no other.



A Disney cruise is the epitome of elegance and style with finite attention to detail. However, unlike other cruise lines, Disney was the first to identify families as their target audience. From engaging children clubs to swimming pools with movie screens, there is something for everyone on a Disney Cruise.



Early in our trip, my daughter and father-in-law joined me on an official tour of the Disney Dream. During that tour we learned about the Disney Imagineers with examples shown of their innovative vision. Our guide, Dustin, showcased various locations around the ship as he explained the four key elements in Disney Cruiseline design:

1.  Look and Feel of the Golden Age (think Titanic)
2.  Modern Technology
3.  Storytelling
4.  Transformation

Each space on a Disney Cruise, from the dining rooms to the staterooms (and even the bathrooms!) showcases attention to detail. We were in awe walking around the ship, our eyes drawn to specific attributes such as the stars on the carpet that always pointed towards the forward (front) of the ship.

We enjoyed learning that the left side of the ship has fish hooks because F-I-S-H has four letters like P-O-R-T and the right side of the ship has seahorse hooks because S-E-A-H-O-R-S-E-S has the same amount of letters as S-T-A-R-B-O-A-R-D. We also discovered the ceilings on Deck 5 were lower than the rest of the ship as that was the floor of the kids’ clubs and they wanted all children to feel big. They even have 73 Hidden Mickeys (with an additional 20 on their private island, Castaway Cay.) Can you find the Hidden Mickeys in the photos below?


 (That one shows a part of Mickey Mouse.)
Even the waiters got into the fun as they added more Hidden Mickeys to our son’s meal:
This astute attention to detail and creating magical experiences made me ponder: How can I make this happen in my real world? Is there a way I can transform my environment, welcoming everyone so that they feel invited as a guest in my home? In my classroom? Are there small details I can include to engage and enrich? What experiences can I design that will make my children and students never want to leave, to beg for more?

I want to dream like Disney and innovate like an Imagineer.

Those are my goals for next year! What changes will YOU make to create new experiences for those you serve? Comment below and join in the conversation!


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grief, mom, reflection, travel, vacation

Survivor’s Guilt

This month has been blur. Two weeks ago, my family and I traveled to Florida for the kickoff of an amazing vacation. We spent a day at Legoland then visited Sea World before boarding a Disney cruise ship to sail the seas with eleven additional family members (16 of us in all).

As many of you know, I’m a cruise gal. I love being whisked away to a different location with the taste of salt in the air, the ocean teasing me with its brilliance right outside my balcony door. I love being pampered (who doesn’t?) and enjoying a few days of not cooking dinner, not making my bed, not being the source of entertainment for my children. It’s a time for rest, reflection, rejuvenation. Even being disconnected from WiFi and cell service is a blissful change to my normally hectic world.

We plan our cruise vacations years in advance. The anticipation that builds prior to vacation is one that rivals birthday parties, holiday gift-giving, births and weddings. We talk about the activities we can’t wait to do. We reminisce about experiences from the last time we cruised. We imagine what will happen the next time we travel.

I take hundreds of photos during our cruises. They are my souvenirs, more precious than any t-shirt or postcard you will find. They remind me of beauty. Kindness. Peace. Joy.

But now, as I’m scrolling through all the photos from our vacation, I feel the need to add another word to that list: Guilt.

See, the cruise we took this year was a gift from my father-in-law, in memory of my mother-in-law who passed away March 2016. They wanted the extended family to have something to look forward to after she was gone, so they arranged for this vacation with everyone together.

Everyone except for mom.

My in-laws have cruised before. In fact, we invited them to share in our own cruise vacation in 2010 when my youngest child was only ten months old. We had a fabulous time making a lifetime of memories that week. Even today, we tease my now seven-year-old how Grandma and Grandpa searched the entire ship for a hot dog bun to appease him. Not the hot dog itself. The hot dog bun.

But now it’s different.

My mother-in-law is gone and we are still finding our own ways to heal from that loss.

During this cruise, we visited various ports. As we traveled to the same locations we had shared with her, I could feel her presence in so many ways. Oh, the memories that flooded my heart as we toured the aquarium at Atlantis and strolled the walkway at Castaway Cay! I felt her whisper on my shoulder from the gentle Caribbean breeze and her love from the warmth of the sun. Even at dinner I found myself lost in the conversation as I remembered the way she would smile and laugh at our reflections of the day.

We had an amazing vacation. Now we are home, re-acclimating to our everyday lives, and I am compiling the photos to share.

But now it’s different.

My mom is gone, too.

This trip had nothing to do with my mom at all as this was a celebration with my husband’s family. In fact, the loss of my mom was never mentioned by anyone the entire week. It wasn’t the focus of the trip, therefore it didn’t rise to the surface of conversation. It may have been the proverbial elephant in the room or perhaps not even a thought; either way, it wasn’t discussed. I briefly referenced her in a passing conversation about childhood memories, but that was it. My mom, her life, her death, were topics only for me to dwell upon.

Now here I am, pouring over hundreds of photos, wondering, “Who do I share these with now?”

Survivor’s guilt is real.

It’s only been two months since my mom’s death and I’m still riding the roller coaster of grief. I am paralyzed by the weight of sorrow as I remember the joy I experienced last week. How could I have allowed myself moments of fun on the heels of my mother’s demise? Why am I deserving to be blessed by the generosity of a family-funded vacation? Who really cares about my stories anyway? Why even share this with the world?

I am quickly learning that grief and guilt are seatmates in the cargo space of my mind.

So bear with me a bit as I navigate these crashing waves and searing riptides. My heart is still mending and I may seem a bit disconnected at times.

This coming week I will share stories from my cruise with parallels to my experiences as a mom, an educator, a daughter and friend.  My goal this year is to be more transparent in my reflections, so I thought this would be a great place to start. For those of you still sifting through the pain of loss, perhaps these stories will help us heal together.

I can’t share my stories with my mom anymore, so I will share them with you.


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