Gratitude

Mothers’ Day

My children graduated from college this month.  Both of them.  My older daughter with her Master’s in Speech, Language Pathology and my younger daughter with her Bachelor’s in Business.  Both have jobs in their chosen field.  Both are now, by every possible definition, adults.  Man, I feel old.

Obviously such times bring with them a natural tendency to reminisce.


I’ve been thinking about all of the nights I sat beside their crib and then on the edge of their bed as we said prayers and listened to music.  She’s a Dancer with Kelsey.  Return to Pooh Corner with Hunter.  I’ve been thinking about the times we would jump on my bed and blow bubbles in the tiny pool that lived on our deck.  Did anyone else have a Bubble Duck?  I’ve been thinking about sidewalk chalk and pictures at JC Penney and the zoo.

There was that phase when Kelsey would sneak food in the middle of the night and Hunter would climb out of her crib.

And also the time we let Kelsey fall down the stairs and the time we let Hunter wander off at her own birthday party.  We were far from perfect parents.  No one is.

I miss those perfect, messy, crying, yelling, laughing, sticky little girls.  But I am overwhelmed by the human beings they have become.

Three years ago I was still relatively new to this blogging thing as Hunter started her college journey.  I wrote A Letter to My Daughter during her first week of classes, and I talked about all the things I wished for her.

I hope you are creative and collaborative.

I hope you are willing to take risks.

I hope you persevere when things get hard because there will be times when things get hard.

Mostly though, I hope you enjoy your life.

They are both all of these things and more.

Their road to this moment was not easy.  No one’s is.  There were times when they were scared and sad and disappointed.   There were times when they were broke and exhausted and overwhelmed.

But through it all they seemed to be enjoying the journey.  They laughed and sang and made a lot of noise in the car.  One baked.  One read.  Both danced in a way that you could only appreciate if you saw it.  They were beautiful.

They are beautiful.

I have no wise words of wisdom this week other than perhaps to say enjoy the minutes and the days.  They pass quickly.  But I am comforted by the fact that with each passing year, they are even more fun.  And I am getting a lot more sleep.

Yes, I am overwhelmed by the human beings they have become.

Roots and Wings

I went home this week, not to my personal home but to my professional home. I got to spend a little time in the school where I started teaching and where I spent 18 of the most formative years of my life. I saw the principal who hired me and the assistant principal who was my supervisor for 9 years. I saw the teachers who helped me learn what it means to be student-first and how to engage sometimes fickle middle schoolers.

I had my children while I was there.

I learned who I was as an educator while I was there.

Going home was powerful. I was overwhelmed. I have been so blessed to know the most incredible people who care so deeply for children and for each other. It is a special place and leaving there was the hardest professional thing I have ever done.

But leaving taught me that there are amazing people who are doing incredible things everyday in all of our schools. I learned that I could start over with a new group of fantastic educators and continue to do good things for kids. I learned that I could have my roots and spread my wings. They are not mutually exclusive.

I got to see my past this week, but I also got to see my future. The principal who inspired and encouraged me to be an administrator was there too. I was able to relive my 13 years in the classroom, and I was able to relive my transition from the classroom to what I do now. We don’t take enough time to reflect on our roots or to celebrate our wings.

I am grateful for all of the people who helped me to be the person I am today. I am grateful for the very special school that shaped everything I know about education. And I am grateful for the time this week to hug them and reminisce with them and remember a good friend who changed all our lives.

Be grateful for your roots and your wings.

Lessons from the Caribbean

Spring Break was amazing.  I am blessed to be able to spend time traveling and seeing the world.  This year we visited St. Thomas and St. Maarten, and we met people who embody gratitude and optimism.

Both islands were hit by the hurricanes that ravaged the Caribbean last fall.  Both islands are still very much in the early stages of recovery. St. Maarten was hit particularly hard. What was once an island of shops and bars and restaurants is now an island of rubble.  But the beaches are beautiful and the water is full of colors you can’t imagine and the people we met there were kind and optimistic and grateful.  It was humbling and overwhelming to be in their presence.  They have so much to teach us all.

“You’ve got to have a plan.”  These people had foresight and survival instincts.  They took their mattresses with them into the bathroom as they hid from Irma and Maria.  Those mattresses saved their lives when the storm blew out the windows.  They found temporary shelter for months during and after the storm, using coolers and getting creative when there was no power and no electricity.  They kept their wits about them, and they had a plan for survival.  You’ve got to have a plan.

“It is not the physical damage that causes the most pain.  It is what can happen in your head.”  We heard stories about children after the storm who kept reliving the experience, mothers who worked tirelessly to help them feel better and who are still focusing on the emotional needs of the people around them.  Trauma changes people.  Physical wound heal.  Emotional wounds linger.

“When the storm is over, you pick yourself up, find your family and friends, and start cleaning up.”  No one we met was wallowing or focusing on the negative.  They were all just taking the next step, doing the next thing.

Every person we met on St. Maarten thanked us for being there.  They are grateful to be alive, and they are grateful that people are visiting “even though the island is broken.”  It is an amazing place.  It is beautiful beyond description, and the people who live there are wise and strong.  It has always been a paradise for visitors, but right now it is also teeming with life lessons. I am blessed to be able to spend time traveling and seeing he world.

Awards Season

The Oscars are today. Movie are one of my things, so I love the Oscars. When I was young, I’d dress up and practice my acceptance speech in the mirror. I was sure I’d win one someday.

Recognition is fun.

But the older I get, the more I believe the old adage that to give is better than to receive. At Christmas I care less now about the things I get and more about the fun of giving someone else something they’ll like.

The same is true with recognition. It is better to give than to receive.

This week I witnessed an amazing woman get some well-deserved recognition. She has spent her career building programs in our district that have impacted thousands of students and changed the trajectory of their lives. She is incredible, and it was fun to be able to share in a few moments of celebrating her.

This week I am grateful not just for her but for the woman who took the time to nominate her for the award. People are busy. It is easier to delete the email about nominating someone for recognition than to take the time to complete the forms, write the letters, and recruit others to participate. But there is something powerful in being the person who took the time, who made the effort.

I went through a drive-through yesterday, and the young man working was polite, efficient, and fun. There was a link to comment on service in the bag. It is more tempting to click on that link when service is poor than when service is excellent. What is that?

We need to find more opportunities to let people know when they have done a good job.

Yes, it is awards season. Not just for movies and for actors but for everyone. The end of the school year will bring banquets and dinners and awards.

Nominate a colleague for recognition.

Write a letter of support for someone.

Be the person who sees to it that others are recognized. Even a handwritten note or a card on a special occasion can make all the difference.

Be that person!

Days Go Slow, but Years Go Fast

Facebook has changed birthdays. Now in addition to the cards that come in the mail, the gifts that are left on your desk, and the many warm wishes throughout the day, we get to come home to all of those birthday posts on Facebook. Thank you! Thank you to each one of you who took the time to post a greeting or a meme or a picture (Kelsey Oleva- payback is coming). Reading through them was a wonderful way to end the week. They were all appreciated.

It feels like just yesterday I was turning 47, and now I am 48.

Luke Bryan’s new song Most People are Good hits the nail on the head for me. (It’s spot on in many ways if you haven’t given it a listen.) He is not the first to say this, but I appreciate his reminder that “days go slow but years go fast.” Anyone with children can confirm this. One day they are babies, then toddlers, then married. Just that fast! The same is true for us all.

This week I find comfort in that. Days are long and sometimes hard. But years go fast.

Our goals are achievable if we can stay focused on one day at a time. Walk your miles, drink your water, write your pages. Each day those things may seem like work, but before you know it, a year will have passed. You will see results. One day at a time.

We’re All in This Together

I washed my car this weekend.  (I know from the beautiful weather and from the length of the line that I am not the only one.)  First I filled my tank, and then I pulled in behind several other cars.  After a few minutes, the woman in the car behind me jumped out and came up to my window.  I rolled it down, and she explained that my gas cap and gas door were open.  Whew!  Good catch before I drove into a car wash.

I thanked her, and she said, “We’re all in this together.”

Wow!  She is someone I would like to know.  The people in her life must be better for knowing her.  How is that for something that just rolled off her tongue.  She is right.  In fact it was the title of the very first blog I ever wrote,  We’re All in this Together.

Sometimes I think we overcomplicate things.  (Pause for laughter from the people who know me well.  I am the master of overcomplicating and overthinking.). Life is really not as complex as we make it.

Be kind.

Think before you act.

Treat other people well.

Stand up for your beliefs and for people who can’t stand up for themselves, but do it respectfully.

Grace is always better than anger.

Perform simple, random acts of kindness.  If you notice someone in front of you in line is about to drive into the car wash with her gas cap open, let her know.

Thank you to the woman who did that for me.  And thank you for the simple reminder that we are, in fact, all in this together.

Grateful This Week…and Every Week

This week is Thanksgiving. I have no doubt that most of you will take time to pause and reflect and give thanks for the many blessings in your life.  It’s good to do that.

This week our students will surely be reading books and writing essays about thankfulness.  They will trace their hands to make turkeys and sing the same songs we sang as children.  They will have that once a year treat that is the Thanksgiving school lunch.  (No, I am not being sarcastic.  Many of us look forward to that school lunch all year.)

There will be turkey and stuffing and football and time with family and friends.  And there will undoubtedly be moments of gratitude.

But what about next week and the week after and the week after?

Every day we have the opportunity to choose gratitude and to model for others that despite anything that might be happening in our lives or in our world, we can choose to be grateful.  It’s an important lesson that I hope we are passing along to the young people in our lives.  It’s an important lesson that I hope we are sharing with our friends and family.  Gratitude is not something we should embrace in only the happy moments of our lives.  Gratitude is something that actually helps create the happy moments in our lives.  A joyful heart begets a joyful heart.

I am feeling especially grateful this week.  I live in an amazing, supportive community that comes together to do good things for children.  I work with an incredible team of people who focus tirelessly on the right things.  And I have friends and family who nurture me and support me in all that I do.

I have those things every week…not just this week.

My wish for you this Thanksgiving is to truly embrace the week and whatever it has in store for you.  I wish you food and fun and a little time away to relax.  And I wish for you a joyful heart that recognizes we have so much for which to be grateful in every week.

Monday

Tomorrow is Monday.

Mondays bring to mind Facebook posts full of anxiety and worry and dread.  Mondays inspire angry cat posters and memes.  Do a Google search.  They’ll make you laugh, but I think they miss the mark.

Mondays are not fully appreciated, not fully embraced for the gift that they are.  Mondays are a fresh start.  Mondays are a new beginning.  And tomorrow is our ultimate Monday.  Tomorrow is the day all teachers report back to work in our district.  It is day one.  It is a fresh start, a new beginning.  It is one of the things I enjoy the most about my work.

Every year I have the same feeling as we start a new school year.  I think it is the same feeling I had as a child.  I love school.  I love the sharpened pencils and the college rule notebooks and the locker shelves.  I love Open House and Curriculum Night and the first football game of the year.  But most of all I love the opportunity.  I love the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, the chance to learn and grow, and the challenge to do more and be more than we have been before.  We get a fresh start every year.  Every child, every adult, every one of us gets to start anew on Monday.  Every Monday.

Last year was amazing, but I did not handle every situation and every conversation as well as I would have liked.  Probably no one did.  I am grateful that I get to try again.  I am grateful that no matter what challenges or obstacles I have faced in the past, I get to learn from them and start again.  I am grateful that the people in my life are understanding and accepting.  They teach me; they show me grace; and they inspire me every day to be a better person.  And that is what I want for our staff and for our students.

I know that not every child loves school.  I know that for some of them the anxiety is real and the fear is not a joke.  It is our mission, our purpose, to do what we can for those who need us the most.  And I feel blessed to be surrounded by dedicated professionals who have made that their life’s work.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Summer was amazing.  Weekends are amazing.  Time to recharge and reconnect is vital.  But we work in the greatest profession in the world, and tomorrow is day one.  Monday.  And I for one am ready!

Be the Light

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In the midst of a difficult day this week, I was reminded that simple acts of grace can be the difference between darkness and light.  Our family buried a loved one this week, a remarkable mother and grandmother and great grandmother who baked cakes (our wedding cake for example) and told stories (the newborn triplets staying warm on the oven door for example) and wrote letters in a Minnesota/German accent that made us all smile.  She lived a long, full life, but it was a sad day.  In the midst of it all, I had some urgent things come up at work, things that could not wait.  I was emotional. I was out of town.  I wanted to be with my family.  And I needed help.

And the help came.  The help came in the form of colleagues who moved heaven and earth in my absence to get some things done.  The help came in the form of texts from friends who offered comfort and reassurance.  The help came in the form of time (short as it was) with an amazing family full of love and laughter.  People were kind and compassionate and helpful.

Grace, freely given.  Care, offered openly.  Help, willingly extended.  In the midst of a dark day, light.

I struggled a bit with what to write this week.  What do I have to offer to the current discourse?  I offer this.  When I needed it, many people were there for me.  Be there for others.  

Be kind.

Be compassionate.

Be helpful.

Act.

It is both that simple and that complex.

In trying times, it is easy to paint things and people with a broad brush, to make black and white that which is clearly gray.  It is easy to get caught up in the moment, to join the pack, to jump on the bandwagon, and to lose the bigger picture.

Who we are and what we do matters!  How we treat each other matters!  Our actions matter!

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, remember these things.  Speak out for what you believe.  Act in the best interest of all people.  And for goodness sake, treat each other with kindness and grace.

Be the light.

2016 Was a Great Year

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2016 was a great year!

There, I said it.  Likely one of the least popular statements I’ve made in a blog, but there it is.  I refuse to give 2016 over to the Dark Side.

Don’t get me wrong,  I understand the desire for a fresh start.  It has not been an easy 12 months.  Loss, grief, change, and what can only be described as a tumultuous year for our country has left many people sad, angry, adrift.  I have found myself there at times as well this year.   It has been a challenging year.

I felt the loss of Carrie Fisher and then Debbie Reynolds in the last week.  I’m a child of the 80s, the Star Wars Generation.  Last week was rough.  It was like a final blow to our culture when we were already down.  And yes, I laughed as hard as anyone when I saw the Facebook post about the GoFund Me account to keep Betty White safe from 2016.  Believe me, I understand the inclination to wish the year away.

But despite personal loss, despite disappointments, despite disillusionment, 2016 was a great year!

I started a new job.  It was the fulfillment of a lifetime of work.  I get to spend my days surrounded by amazing people doing important work for young people.

My daughter got married.  So many family and friends, those there and those there in spirit, made the entire experience a joy!  It was a day filled with overwhelming love.

But even if none of that had happened, 2016 would have been a great year!

Life is short.  Each and every day is a gift.  In 2016 the sun rose.  In 2016 the moon shone.  In 2016 babies were born and friendships were forged and memories were made.

Our children laughed and loved and learned new things.  Our flowers bloomed, and our gardens grew.  Talented people made music and art and dance and theatre.  Academics debated the real issues in our society and reached for greater understanding.  And strangers held doors open and offered helping hands and said “Good Morning” and “Have a nice day.”

It is in the small things that we make a life.  It is in the routine of a morning kiss before leaving for work or a text from your daughter when she’s thinking of you during the day that we find real joy.  2016 was full of these moments.

I am in no way trying to say that we do not have real, significant, difficult things to address in our world.  We do.  I am in no way saying that we should not strive for greater connections to each other, greater tolerance for each other, and greater acceptance of each other.  We should.

But I am saying that this life and this world is a gift!  This day, this week, this year is a gift!  Regardless of what 2017 brings, I will strive to remember that.

Works Every Time

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I had a bad day this week.  Nothing catastrophic, just busy and tired and not feeling great.    I have a good friend who listens on those days, and as I always do, I felt better after I talked to him.  The next day he sent me a text and asked if it was a better day.  I replied, “Absolutely!  I changed my attitude.”  He said,”It works every time.”

He’s right.

The holidays are a busy time, and with them come a set of high expectations for the perfect Christmas card, the most beautiful decorations, and the exactly right gifts for everyone.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  That’s a high bar.  It can cause stress at the time when we need it the least.   A positive attitude is important right now.

So how do we do that?   I think we do it by being intentional about the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves.

I love listening to stories from Steve Hartman on the CBS Evening News and Sunday Morning.  From early in his career he has focused on telling the stories of everyday people.  He went so far as to build an entire series on the premise that if you threw a dart at a map, you could find someone with a moving and inspirational story worth telling.

He’s right.

In a world full of news about violence and crisis and divisiveness, his stories remind that us that this world is filled with kindness and resilience and love. Everyday people doing everyday things building a life of meaning and filling the world with good.  We need to spend our energy telling those stories.

At the end of the day, share the most positive events of the day with your family.  Don’t relive the negative events.

Spend time each day identifying the people who were kind to you and who went out of their way to say something nice.  I walked out of the grocery store on my bad day this week and the volunteer ringing bells in the cold said, “You look lovely today honey.”  A total stranger, freezing in the cold to raise money to help others, took the time to say something kind to me.  Why wasn’t that what I called my friend to share?  It should have been.

And be the voice who is saying the kind things to other people.  It takes very little to turn someone’s day around.  A smile.  A warm greeting.  An affirming comment can make all the difference in the middle of a bad day.  Be the positive story that others tell at the end of their day.

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I can’t promise that December will not be stressful.  I can’t promise that nothing will go wrong or that no one will be cruel to you.  But I do know that in the midst of those things there will be moments of great joy, people of good will, and kindness and love all around.

Tell those stories!

Count Your Blessings

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“When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep.”  Irving Berlin-  White Christmas

In a week when we focus on gratitude, are you feeling grateful for what you do?

I work in education.   It is hard, important work.  This week I’ve been reflecting on why I do what I do.  I’ve been remembering the teachers who did for me what I hope I have done and now help others do for students.  Influence is such a powerful thing, and education is a profession with enormous influence.

So many teachers had an influence on me and taught me lessons that helped shape who I am.

In elementary school, Mrs. Landon gave me independence and individual opportunities to learn.  She “differentiated instruction” for me and for Amy and for Charlie and for Randy before anyone knew the term.  The four of us read and wrote and acted and researched many times on our own.  She allowed us the freedom to work ahead and to learn at our own pace. She empowered us with projects and leadership roles.  She taught us something important…

You are special.

In junior high (middle school wasn’t a thing yet), Mr. Reynolds did the same for all of his students.  He was an amazing teacher.  He acted out Civil War battles and made learning fun. And he was about the “whole child” before anyone knew the term.  He could relate to every student.  He allowed us all to tell our stories, and he supported us all in whatever we needed.  Over Spring Break, he took us to Washington D.C.  We watched as he stayed on the bus when we got to the Vietnam Memorial.  His experiences in the war were still too fresh.  He helped us understand that everyone has a story, and he taught us something important…

Everyone is special.

In high school, Mr. DiMauro challenged us.  He set the bar so high academically that many times I thought I’d never reach it.  But he found ways in class to “scaffold the learning” before anyone knew the expression.  He taught us Beowulf in Old English and somehow we were able to understand it.  Day after day he set impossible learning goals, and day after day he helped us meet them.  He taught us something important…

You can do hard things.

In college Mr. Blanke gave me a job as the Box Office Manager, but he did so much more than that.  He empowered me to run things and make decisions.  He gave me paperwork and office work, but he also gave me real work.  He let me design processes and change the way things were done.  He confided in me.  He processed with me.  He relied on me.  And he taught me something important…

You are needed.

Life is not always easy.  I have had real challenges and obstacles in my job, in my health, and in my life.  And every time I was able to meet the challenge and overcome.  I am grateful for the people who helped teach me the lessons that made me who I am today.

Working in education (or in business or in marketing or in food service or in anything) is not always easy. There can be hard days and weeks when you question why you do what you do.

When you have those days or weeks, remember, you chose this job.  You chose it for a reason…a positive, important, life-changing reason.  Reflect on the people who had influence on you, and reflect on the students, staff, and parents you can influence.  Be grateful for the opportunity.

You are special. You are needed.

Now go do what’s hard!

 

Awe

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It’s almost here.  The first day of school.  In a few days our kindergarteners will step into the building for their very first day of school ever.  And our seniors will step into the building for their very last first day of school ever.  There is something truly magical about this time of year.  It is a gift!

In fact, everything about this profession is a gift.  I am in awe of it.

We kicked off the new year with a welcome back celebration last week.  Our superintendent (@jsutfin) and Eric Sheninger (@E_Sheninger) spent the day inspiring us to celebrate our successes and to be better than we are now.   We are entrusted with an awesome responsibility.  And we were encouraged to focus on the awe.

I had no trouble doing that last week.

Everywhere I look in our schools, I find reasons to be in awe.

I am in awe of the teachers who build knowledge, instill curiosity, and create thinkers.  They meet each student where they are, find ways to engage them, and motivate them to be better than they ever knew they could be.  They meet needs as simple as tying shoes and as complex as making a child feel accepted.  I am in awe of the teachers who spend their evenings at soccer games for students who invited them, their weekends at Dance Team car washes, and their early mornings on the field at Marching Band practice.  They make home visits, call moms and dads to share successes, and pick just the right moment to tell a child how proud they are.

I am in awe of the administrators who build relationships with students, even when it is not easy, advocate for the resources their teachers need, and manage to lead in the midst of extreme challenges.  They buy toasters and pop-tarts for students who are hungry, show up at graduation years after struggling with a child through middle school, and sit with families in the hospital during some of their darkest days.  I am in awe of their deep dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes.

I am in awe of the willingness of educators to put their hearts out there over and over, every time, for every child.  This is not always easy.  Our students sometimes make poor choices, in some cases ones that have devastating consequences.  But in every case there is someone, a teacher, a principal, who cares about them and supports them through all of it.

I have watched teachers unpack boxes, refill school supplies, hang bulletin boards, fire up iPads, and launch new apps. I have watched administrators greet families at Orientation and facilitate engaging and meaningful professional development. I have watched these staff members work and learn and grow in the last week.  And I was in awe of them.

And I am certain too that they heard the message to inspire awe in their students.

How do we create a sense of wonder in our students?

How do we expose our students to things that will amaze them?

How do we challenge our students to take risks, to step outside of their comfort zones, and to push themselves beyond their fears in order to become the best versions of themselves?

Awe is complex.  It is an abundance of amazement that can almost overwhelm you. Embrace every moment of the first days of school.  Be in awe!  It’s so worth it.

An Abundant Life

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There is nothing like a major life celebration to reveal the true abundance in your life.  My daughter got married Friday.  Her dress was stunning.  The reception hall was beautiful.  The food was delicious, and the dance was a blast.  But if none of that had been true, it would still have been a success.

My daughter and son-in-law were surrounded by family and friends who laughed with them, cried with them, toasted them from the heart, and frankly suffered through outrageous heat to get some beautiful pictures that they’ll treasure forever.

There were memorials and moments of silence.  There were hysterical stories about their childhoods, and person after person shared that they knew that they would marry each other…almost from the moment they met.

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Their lives are abundant.

They are very young, still in college, and working many hours a week to make ends meet.  They do their laundry at our house and drive cars that overheat and break down.  They do not have a lot of money or expensive possessions, and they have some lean years ahead of them like most young married couples.

But their lives are abundant…and so is mine.

One of my best friends married them.  Another one sat next to me while the best man, and my daughter and my husband reduced me to tears with their toasts.   Many of my friends drove miles, flew miles, and made arrangements to be there on a Friday afternoon to watch her say her vows, to hold me over and over as I cried tears of joy, and to dance with me as we celebrated.

We build a life relationship by relationship.  And this week I was surrounded by the people in my life with whom I have forged those relationships.  Those people, and their love, are the abundance in our lives.  Not money.  Not things.  People.  Never has that been more clear to me.

I was supported and encouraged every day of this past week by friends who reminded me to relax and to enjoy the experience.  One of my favorite texts came Wednesday afternoon.  “I have no idea what you are doing at this exact moment, but I am 100% sure that the correct advice is ‘Calm down!'”

Then I didn’t sleep well Thursday night, and on Friday morning I texted a friend that it “might be a rough day”.  The response was perfect.  “Power through and choose to make it a great day.  Or cancel the whole thing.  Those are your choices.”  Pretty great to have people in your life who know you well enough to set you straight when you need a reminder…and who read you well enough to text you whenever you need someone to remind you to “Relax!”

The relationships in our lives are everything.  Because of those relationships, my life is abundant.  Focus your energy on people, not things.

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The most wonderful thing about this experience for me has been to witness that same abundance in the life of my daughter and her husband.  They are surrounded and supported by people who love them unconditionally.  Their lives are truly abundant, and for that I am most truly grateful.

The delicious cake was just a bonus!

Little Shop of Letdown

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Major milestones in our lives offer an opportunity to reflect.  Such has been my spring. And as I have been reminiscing, I have been reminded of the many ups and downs that make up a life.  For me, for my friends, and for my family, life has not always turned out the way we thought it would.  Woven through the fabric of the many celebrations and achievements in our lives are a fair share of failures.

As we celebrated an impressive freshman year and an outstanding grade in college calculus, I was reminded of the struggles it took to get through my daughter’s first AP course.  School was not as easy for her as it was for her older sister.

As we celebrated awards and honors and some amazing achievements as she graduated college, I was reminded of the devastation when my oldest was cut from the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” her junior year without ever even having the chance to read for the part she wanted.  She cried for days.

As I transition to a new job, I am reminded of the year I was so ready for my first administrative job.  I’d earned the degree.  I’d done all of the preparing, and I was sure the next administrative job was mine.  When circumstances caused me to miss the interview and someone else got the job I believed should have been mine, I was disappointed.  I was more than disappointed.

But as strange as this is going to sound, I am so grateful for the failures.  I may appreciate them even more than the successes.

With my daughter’s struggles in school came a strong work ethic, an ability to persevere, and an understanding of how to “do school”.  With my daughter’s loss of a part in the musical came an even greater ability to be humble, compassionate, and sympathetic. Having to wait for my first chance to lead as an administrator helped me learn patience and taught me that with time things work out.

My children are the amazing human beings they are today not because they have always been successful but because they learned how to respond with positivity, grace, and grit when things went wrong.

Failure is not an option.  Failure is a guarantee.  At some point we all fail.  Reaching for our dreams, imagining a different future, trying something new all mean risking failure.  And when we fail, we learn.

Take risks.  Try something that scares you.  Set what one of my friends calls stretch goals. Imagine that you can go well beyond what you thought was your limit physically, intellectually, or emotionally.  And decide now that when you fail, and you will, that you will maintain a positive attitude, persevere, and  learn from it.

Every experience, every success, every failure make us who are.  Appreciate them all!

A Letter to my Daughter…Enjoy!

Kelsey

Today marks the official beginning of the wedding festivities.  This afternoon you will celebrate with people who have known you, in some cases, for your entire life.  There will be food and gifts and games and likely some stories about when you were a little girl and how quickly you grew up.  Your sister has worked so hard to make everything perfect. It will be great fun! Enjoy it.

Then in less than two weeks you will carry that banner in as you and the other SLP majors take your seats and celebrate commencement.  There will be speeches and tassels and pictures and happy tears.  There will likely again be stories about when you were a little girl and how quickly you grew up.  Earning your degree is a major accomplishment.  Enjoy it!

Kelsey and HunterI don’t know if I did this well enough a year ago when your sister was graduating high school and having her senior dance recital and turning 18.  I don’t know if I reminded her often enough to slow down and enjoy the experience.  These times feel so busy, and I don’t know if I told her to take it all in and appreciate each and every moment.  I want to be sure we all do that right now.

These milestones are significant.  They should be cherished.

But I also want to say this before we get too far down this path.  As hard as we have all tried to be sure that each of these events are perfect, they will not be. They will be far from perfect.  Things will get missed.  The way you envisioned this or that will not be exactly the way it actually happens.  It will rain.  Your hair may come undone.  Your make-up may smear.  You may, in fact, fall flat on your face at some point in all of this.  Such is life.

The unexpected will happen.

But it will be those moments you remember most.  It will be the surprises that stick with you decades later.  So decide right now to enjoy those moments too.  Laugh at yourself.  Roll with things.  Enjoy them for what they are, not for what you thought they’d be.

And finally, cry when you need to.  There are people who should be with us for all of this who are not. There may be more loss in these next few weeks. Such is life.  Let every emotion in and remember that you wouldn’t be sad if you hadn’t loved deeply.

I guess I 787A2024just wanted to say that I am excited for you (and for me) as we start this journey. It will be fun and funny.  It will be emotional and draining at times. And at the end of it, the two of you will be married. Nothing else that happens along the way matters more than that! Enjoy it!

 

A Balanced Life

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April is a busy month.  And May is certainly not any slower.  There are choir concerts and Honors Nights and track and baseball and soccer.  There are the usual birthday parties and anniversaries.  And of course there’s graduation.

Spring is a busy time.  But so is summer…and fall…and winter.  Our lives are busy.  Between work and school and church and athletics, our families are running in many directions.  It is easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are not living a balanced life.

I have had many discussions over the years with my friends about finding balance in our lives, finding that work/life balance, focusing on body/mind/spirit balance, achieving whatever that perfect balance is that keeps us healthy and happy.  Many of those conversations started with a well-meaning friend who was worried about my balance at a given time.

After much reading, many conversations, and some serious soul searching over the years, I have arrived at my own understanding of balance.  There is no such thing as balance, and I wouldn’t want it if it existed.

If I am going to be honest,  I have imagined a life where I workout every morning, read the paper, and make a real breakfast before heading to work.  Then I connect personally with all of my co-workers, clear all my emails, and check everything off my to do list.  I leave work a few minutes early, check in with my parents and my siblings and take a few minutes to catch up on Facebook and Twitter.  When I get home I take a quick look around the house to pick up any messes, go through the mail, stay on top of the bills, and play fetch with the dog.  Then I cook a delicious meal and set the table for dinner.  I clean up the kitchen, watch a few of my favorite shows on Netflix and login to do any evening emails and finish up my work from the day.  I read for fun every night before bed, pray, meditate, stretch and do yoga before turning early and getting 8 hours of sleep.

My meals are healthy.  My clothes ironed.  Everyone gets their birthday cards on time, and I never forget an important event in a friend’s life.

Obviously I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  Until there are 47 hours in a day and I become a much more perfect version of myself, it is unlikely even half of that ever becomes reality in a day.

And I am fine with that.  For years I wasn’t fine with that.  For years I thought if I read enough, reflected enough, or made enough to do lists that I would be able to find this perfect balance that would make my life complete.

Well guess what, my life is complete.

When I need to work more, I do.  When I need to go away on a cruise for a week, I do.  Are they balanced?  Not even close.  I think our lives are about finding the things that bring us joy and then doing them.

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So release yourself from the guilt that comes with working late at school or leaving school early to go to a soccer game.  Give yourself grace when you buy your contribution to the potluck or put your children in a store-bought Halloween costume.  Some years you sew Pooh and Piglet costumes in the basement, and some years you buy a ladybug costume at the store.  Your children will remember both years fondly, and they won’t love you any less because you bought their costume.

We each get to define what brings us joy.  Likely what makes my life complete is different from what makes your life complete.  Normal in my family is different from normal in my neighbor’s family.  We establish our own routines and traditions.  I am not advocating selfishness or wanton disregard for the needs of others; I am just suggesting that we stop beating ourselves up for not being balanced.

Life Needs More Exclamation Points!

imageI’ve joked that you can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the English teacher out of the person.  In a meeting recently with some colleagues, we were revising the word choice, construction, and punctuation in a document.  There was an exclamation point at the end of a sentence, and we were debating whether or not that was appropriate.

Exclamation points are commonly used to express excitement, surprise, astonishment, or other strong emotions.  Grammarians would caution against overuse of the mark.  But a wise friend in our meeting asked, “Shouldn’t life be filled with more exclamation points, not less?”

Yes!

Our lives should be filled with excitement, surprise, and astonishment! We should seek those opportunities.

Say Yes

Every day, every moment, life presents us with opportunities.  Say yes to them!  An invitation to an event can feel like an obligation, but it could be the experience of a lifetime.  A new professional opportunity can feel overwhelming, but it could help you grow in ways you’ve never imagined.

Trying something new can be scary, but I agree with the advice that we should do something everyday that scares us.  There is a thrilling exhilaration in doing something new.  Your heart beats faster.  Your adrenaline spikes.  Your emotions go into overload.  It’s fun.

Risk-taking is part of a well-lived life.  Now I’m not suggesting you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, but I am suggesting you be willing to say yes to an opportunity even though it scares you.  It may feel safer to maintain the status quo, but the best things in life are almost always a result of challenging it.

Be Present

“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  (Ferris Bueller)  We have to do more than just say yes to those opportunities; we have to be present enough to  enjoy them when they are happening.  Noticing the best moments when they are happening is a skill we should all cultivate.

Two of our football teams had the opportunity to play in the state championship game in Memorial Stadium last week.  As they were leaving the field at halftime, a player’s dad said to me, “I hope they are taking a few minutes to look around and really soak this all in.”  The experiences of a lifetime are always worth savoring.

Extend Opportunities to Others

Everyone deserves a life filled with exclamation points.  When you have the chance to invite someone else to join you in an adventure, extend the offer.

Experience Wonder

If you read the blog a couple of weeks ago, you know that I have a new niece.  There is something miraculous about a baby.  Holding Logan this weekend has been priceless, and I have tried to enjoy every minute of it.

imageOur world is full of awe-inspiring miracles.  I could watch a mountain stream flowing over rocks for hours.  Vacations are alive with opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature, but if we take the time to look around, we’d see that beauty everyday.  The autumn leaves have only now fallen from the trees. The first frost has left a shimmer on the grass.  The colors of the sunset as I drive home from work this time of year take my breath away.

Our lives need more exclamation points!  Be intentional about looking for them!

 

 

‘Tis the Season

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Thanksgiving is a special time.  As a child, I remember singing “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go.”  I remember pilgrim costumes and crafting turkeys by tracing my hand.

As I got older, I remember deeper lessons about history and social justice. I remember essays and poetry and singing “Tis a Gift to Be Simple”.

But mostly I remember someone asking me every year to pause for a moment and give thanks.  English teachers, music teachers, social studies teachers.  Art teachers, science teachers and math teachers all found engaging ways to incorporate a lesson about gratitude.  And it stuck!

I really do choose to see the best in the world, and we know from research that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a powerful way to develop that mindset.

This is not just me talking.  Forbes outlines  7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.  Our own physical and psychological health can be improved, our relationships can be improved, and our mental strength can be improved.  There are simple, tangible things we can do to improve our lives.

It isn’t always easy though.  Life can be hard.  In the midst of illness and grief, during times of fear and stress, gratitude is likely the farthest thing from your mind.  But practicing daily or weekly gratitude rituals can ease your stress and cultivate a positive attitude.

“You can’t be grateful and unhappy in the same moment.” (Dan Baker,  What Happy People Know)

I have included several links this week because many have written about the benefits of gratitude and outlined concrete steps you can take to be intentional about growing in this area… taking a gratitude walk is a great one.

This week I offer a challenge to all of you.  Take some time to pause and reflect on the good things in your life.  Write them down or make a mental list of them as you take a long walk in nature (with a warm coat).  If you work with students, ask them to do the same.  You have the opportunity to shape a mindset that just might stick with them for the rest of their lives!

For me, I am grateful for my family and my friends, for my life’s work, and for the opportunities that continue to present themselves on an almost daily basis.  I am grateful to be alive, and make no mistake, that is no small thing.

 

How a Note Can Change the World


I have worked for two different people who started meetings by asking us to write notes of gratitude to colleagues.  Not rocket science, I know.  But culture-shifting and life-changing.

Something happens when you put your focus on recognizing other people.  Something powerful.  First, you impact that person in ways you could not imagine.  Human beings need to be valued.  We need to know we matter and that other people know we matter.   It seems so simple, but taking the time to write a note and letting people know what you appreciate about them can make all the difference in their day.  Over time, this kind of validation can change a life.

Writing notes (or other rituals designed to recognize and appreciate people) can impact your day as well.  It lifts your mood.  It takes the focus off whatever might be happening in your life, and it shines a light on something positive.

And the impact on your organization cannot be overstated.  A work culture that focuses on the strengths of its people is positive.  The people feel valued.  I have seen first-hand how a shift towards building relationships and recognizing the contributions of other people can change a school, a district, or an organization.

People matter.  People need to know they matter.  Tell them.

As we start a new school year, it is worth a reminder that our students also have this primal need to be recognized, to be seen, to matter.  A friend shared a video with me this week that was a vivid reminder of this need to matter.  Welcome your new students.  Learn their names quickly.  Know them.  And then tell them and tell others all of things you appreciate about them.

Our world can feel overwhelming at times.  The news is full of events that make us question humanity.  How could something as simple as a note ever have an impact?  It can.  It does.  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead)