155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Nineteen: Brave

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.

Credit: Pinterest

Today’s prompt: Brave

When I saw this article about Amy Cuddy early yesterday morning, it caught my eye.

Although the title made it clear that there had been some type of shift in her life, this is what came to mind upon seeing her name:

  • beautiful
  • intelligent
  • gave a TED talk (the 2nd most watched one ever)
  • power poses
  • NY Times best seller
  • has it all together/has achieved things I want to do

Apparently, things have changed over the past year or two for Amy Cuddy.

In short, the research that brought her so much notoriety, in essence research that says “if you physically manifest power (as in doing a power pose in the wings before giving a speech), it will lend you confidence and help you perform better,” was intensely questioned by her peers in a very public way.

When I was searching for this article last  night, my email brought up David Burkus’ email series from a year or two ago. Amy Cuddy had written the “New Year’s message.” It was full of what we can do, positivity and optimism.

I had to look up her Twitter handle to help publicize the Burkus series in my freelance capacity at the time. I put her on a pedestal (for all the bulleted reasons above).

That was then.

Now she is writing a book called, “Bullies, Bystanders, and Bravehearts.” I am reminded that bravery exists most when we are standing in the wings of our own life, away from the lit stage, looking at ourselves in the mirror and finding the strength to be our best selves.

Writing Challenge

155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Eighteen: Share

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I can’t resist spell-checking!)

Today’s prompt: Share

There is someone I have shared time with that I owe a letter to, and I’m fixing that today (raw materials all laid out in the pic above).

I met Susan, who is an inmate at a local women’s prison, during one of my visits there with Gulf Winds Track Club as a volunteer with their running group. Over the years (five-ish), we have exchanged letters.

I have fallen way behind on my letter-writing, even though I think about her so often.

I checked the Department of Corrections database (that’s a thing) to see if she is still at that institution (people get moved for various reasons, or released in general) and saw that she is scheduled to be released December 1.

And I remember thinking back when we first started talking, about how extremely far off the release date seemed. And now here it is (almost).

I thought “is it necessary to send a letter when she’ll be getting out so soon?” and then immediately thought “the time must slow to a true crawl when you are THAT. CLOSE. to being done, to seeing your children outside of a constrained visiting room again, to waking up when you want, eating what you want, enjoying the taste of freedom.”

That is why a letter is being written today.

I actually owe quite a few letters and there are some I don’t exactly owe but feel compelled to write.

Time to get the green pen busy!

Writing Challenge

What Makes You Say “I Want That”? A Look at User-Generated Content

Laura Petrolino (here she is on Twitter) and I have been friends online for five years but never actually spoke face to face (via video conference) until when we were putting together this post!

It’s a miracle we were able to coordinate a time, given our mutual inability to tell what day it is. Case in point from a 2016 Facebook message exchange:

User-generated content examples

How Does Our Experience of the World Compare?

As communications professionals, Laura and I are both interested in user-generated content (UGC) — messages and images created by consumers rather than brands — that help tell a brand’s story. In fact, Laura wrote a post, The Magic of User-Generated Content, for Spin Sucks on the topic back in 2014.

For the #BridgingTheGap Campaign, in which 100 Millennial and 100 Midlife Influencers are coming together to blur boundaries, we each decided to share examples of favorite pieces of UGC, and let you see how the perspectives of millennials and fifty-somethings compare.

We needed some kind of structure, so I chose to use the four categories described in this analysis by Kantar Added Value: discovery, fun, status and wellbeing.


Meet my canine friend, Rocky. Rocky has quite an active life on Instagram, and watching him since he was a tiny puppy has been a discovery adventure. What matters for an image like this as UGC is that it clearly shows the brand of bed he is using, but it doesn’t scream “YOU SHOULD BUY THIS PET BED.” It’s more of the kind of thing that would be in the back of my mind if I were in the market for a pet product.

And because I know Rocky, I feel a connection. It’s not the brand saying “you need a Snoozzy bed because your dog will like it.” It’s Rocky’s family saying “here’s a day in Rocky’s life and he’s on Snoozzy because he clearly deserves the best.”
user-generated content examples


What would you wear to spend a day at the park with your toddler (or, given my generation, perhaps your grandchild)? You would want to be comfortable, prepared for changes in temperature, and look decent enough that it wouldn’t be embarrassing to run into a friend.

This post from MommaInFlipFlops accomplishes all that in its display of a Prana product. (Note: I participated in the same campaign, but her toddler is way cuter than the jar of catnip I held up in my UGC!).

Here’s why this works as UGC for me. The main thing I am drawn to is the relationship between the mom and the toddler, and the beautiful setting. When I scroll through the hashtags, I can see that she’s wearing prAna and can choose to pursue it.

user-generated content examples


Is there anything more affirming that the start of a new married life? Although my niece Olivia had a fantastic photographer at her wedding, this shot is one I grabbed with my iPhone from my perfectly positioned seat as her sisters toasted her and her new groom.

Why is this effective UGC for Hayley Paige? It showcases a bridal gown and two bridesmaids’ gowns in a genuine moment, not an artificial pose. It could appeal to a potential bride OR a mother-of-the bride, all depending on the consumer’s perspective.

user-generated content examplesWellbeing

This is just a simple selfie (and it sort of bleeds over into the bonus category I’ll be adding…) but it’s so much more as UGC goes. The Charity Miles app is used by runners, walkers and cyclists to generate donations to favorite charities.

The app is designed so that the user can add a picture of himself or herself that can then be shared on social media.

Like I said, this isn’t just any wellbeing selfie, it’s Charity Miles founder Gene Gurkoff and running legend Bart Yasso.

From a UGC standpoint, it makes me say, “gosh, if Bart Yasso is staying healthy anhelping a great cause at he same time, maybe I can too.”

user-generated content examples

BONUS: Causes

It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add a “causes” category. I adore advocating on behalf of causes, and hopefully my UGC shows it.

Team RWB is one of my favorite causes. It’s an organization that supports veterans in various ways.

This image of a Team RWB supporter doing the Old Glory Relay evokes the sense of the journey, the walker’s purpose, and the unifying point of the organization.

It works for me as UGC because it makes me say, “hey! I could do this and help veterans like this guy,” rather than “you should care about this and sign up now.” It’s a subtle but powerful difference.

user-generated content examples

Bridging the Gap

Are Laura and I totally different from each other when it comes to how we view UGC?

The New Jersey American Marketing Association writes:

There are clear differences in how millennials and baby boomers consume and trust branded content. Millennials enjoy images of real people using a product, whereas baby boomers care more about the quality of the product or service. Boomers also enjoy written and video content just as much as images.

Judging by the images I chose, maybe the difference isn’t actually that big after all.

Take a look at Laura’s post and let me know what you think.

It’s something we can discuss the next time Friday rolls around, if we can figure out what day it is.


155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Seventeen: Grow

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I can’t resist spell-checking!)

Today’s prompt: Grow

The Spanish word for “grow” is “crecer.”

I don’t honestly know the derivation of “crecer” but I suspect maybe it has its roots in “increase” or “incremental.” Whatever the case, it seems to me a more logical set of roots than whatever led to “grow.”

I like the logical …… the linear …… and this does not always work out well for me!

In school, a teacher told us to do a timeline of some period in history. I spent hours creating a physical timeline — the thing was HUGE — sheets of paper that took up lots of room …

… when I walked in to class the next day, I was the only person with a PHYSICAL timeline. I watched all my classmates turn in their typed timelines, realizing the teacher hadn’t meant a LITERAL timeline.

Most days, I’m happy that we can still keep growing and changing no matter our age, but other days, I just want to “be” — and take a break from all the self-questioning and challenges that are more difficult to surmount.

The timeline of life doesn’t seem to lay itself it very logically either. Maybe, in the background, that’s where the growth is occurring.

Writing Challenge

155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Sixteen: Read

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I can’t resist spell-checking!)

Today’s prompt: Read

I worry about myself and reading.

I *adore* reading and am a tireless advocate for reading and readers … especially freedom to read. Banned Books Week is one of my favorite advocacy events of the year (just sad it has to be a thing).

But it takes me forever to get through a traditional book on paper (not the case with audiobooks).

I remember reading a Harvard Business Review article years ago, long before I had a smartphone, by a man who said his brain had been scrambled by his device ….. meaning he had gotten so addicted to taking “digital sips” of information that he had become utterly unable of paying attention to the traditional form of books/information.

Has that become me?

If so, what can I do about it?

When I did my six-hour silent retreat last year, I took a book and made it through the whole thing (granted, it wasn’t an extremely LONG book, but I read it cover to cover over the course of the retreat (shout out to Fr. James Martin SJ for a great book).

I keep thinking I need to detach in that same way (as I did at the retreat), just me and a book (no phone, no interruptions) … but for longer than six hours … to rewire my brain.

I think writing is the lifeline between my brain and the word — thank goodness for writing.

Maybe the next thing I need to read is a directory of retreat centers (although given the way our lives go these days, I may need to find an alternative way to rewire my brain ….. right here at home.)

Writing Challenge

155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Fifteen: Remain

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I *may* not be able to resist spell-checking!)

Today’s prompt: Remain

Meet Spike (above). Spike is a rhino Beanie Baby still wrapped in the protective packaging he came in.

When my son (now 18) was little, his security objects tended to be gray fluffy things — I remember an elephant, a dolphin (Dolphin was a legend in our family!), and Spike. I was very happy when Spike became a thing specifically because he was a standard Beanie Baby that could be easily replaced if Spike #1, 2 or 3 went missing (as was likely to happen).

I still find replacement Spikes here and there around the house (but I think the one pictured is the last one I bought). I found this Spike when I was cleaning out my closet (a very long overdue task) during Hurricane Irma in mid-September. I’m still working on it (although my forward momentum really took a hit once the power came back on and I could get back to the Internet and the rest of my life.)

It’s so interesting to me how the security objects remain physically in my life long after my son’s need for them has moved on.

My children are so different from one another, and now that I see him taking on his freshman year of college, in a new town, I really wonder if I knew him that well at all.

We often second-guess our parenting choices, I know — and I know ultimately I can be confident that the choices I made – the “right” ones and the “wrong” ones – were done from a deep well of love.

But with an empty nest, it’s difficult not to reflect on what could have been different from the perspective of seeing them function independently in the world.

What remains is the fact that as a mom, I still make an effort to provide security and help him develop his own sense of emotional security, even though it’s a lot harder than having a backup Beanie Baby in the closet.

Writing Challenge

Why Put Off Investing in Your Child’s Education?

This post is sponsored by the Florida Prepaid College Board, through my role as a Believer Blogger. All thoughts are my own.

Have you visited a local organic farm?

When I visited four of them as part of a regional “farm tour,” I was reminded of several principles that it is easy to lose sight of, like respecting the time it takes to grow something nutritious.

This is Philip, who hosted our tour of Orchard Pond Organics:

Higher Education Financing

Philip was no run-of-the-mill tour guide. He was a captivating combination of farmer and philosopher, emphasizing life truths like, “when a crop fails it isn’t bad as long as we learn something from it [true].”

The Fish Story

One local partnership Philip mentioned was the farm’s relationship with Southern Seafood Market, a local business.

Philip: “We get fish from there.”

Me (in my head): Hm, Okay.

Philip: And then it sits for a year.

Me (still in my head): That’s a long time.

Philip: And then it makes for one incredible fertilizer.

Me (internally, as a mental light bulb goes off): AHHHHH.

Nurturing a Child’s Educational Options Takes Time

We all have high hopes for our children’s educational future when they are born.

Bringing these hopes to life involves planning on our part. That freshman year seems to arrive so rapidly, after we’ve barely put away the grade school mementoes and cheered for that final grade school ball game/band concert/art display.

Like the fish at Orchard Pond Organics, we have to invest …. and wait.

This is Where Florida Prepaid Comes In

Florida Prepaid offers two options to save money to make it possible for a child in your life to go to college, with the funds being tax-free as long as they are spent on qualified costs like tuition and fees: prepaid and savings.

There are five pre-paid plans, each with specific costs, payment schedules and benefits which all include tuition and other specified fees at 28 Florida Colleges and 12 State Universities. (To answer one common question: the funds can be used outside of Florida. My daughter is using her Florida Prepaid at Valdosta State University in Georgia.) Find answers to other common questions here.

Open Enrollment is October 15, 2017 through February 28, 2018

Open enrollment for Florida Prepaid opens today, October 15, 2017, and will last through February 28, 2018 (payments won’t be due until April 2018)!

(You can enroll in a 529 plan year-round.)

“But I’m on the Fence”

I totally understand this. I have been transparent about the fact that my position “on the fence” was eliminated when my parents generously bought both of my children prepaid plans when they were infants (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

I chatted with a few friends who shared concerns they have heard (or believe themselves) about Florida Prepaid. In case you have the same questions, here is my attempt to answer. (These answers pertain to Florida Prepaid vs 529 plans — I am happy to help you find answers to 529 questions too.)

What if my child gets a scholarship?

If your child receives a scholarship, you can get a refund for the same amount as the plan would pay  a public college or university in Florida.

What if my child goes to school out of state? It’s so hard to predict what a 3-year-old (or whatever age) is going want when they are 18.

Plans are designed to be used at a Florida College or State University but the amount covered by the plan can also be applied at other schools nationwide or at private colleges and universities in Florida.

Dave Ramsey doesn’t like Prepaid Plans (this is his rationale).

I respect Dave Ramsey immensely and if I had done 5% of what he suggests, my personal financial future would be much brighter right now. However, his suggestion that I invest “… the $10,000 in a growth stock mutual fund ESA where your money grows tax free” poses the flawed logic for me that I don’t have $10,000 to invest. I don’t know many other parents who do either.

There are Special Opportunities Happening Right Now!

A Chance to Win a Scholarship

From now until October 29, you can win a chance to be one of 10 recipients of a 2-Year Florida College Plan scholarship. You can enter daily. Here’s the link. You’ll also get a chance to win $25 off your $50 application fee.

A Chance to Get Your Entire Contract Paid Off!

Anyone who purchases a Florida Prepaid College Plan between Oct. 15 and Nov. 30, 2017 will be automatically entered to “win the gift of college” from the Florida Prepaid College Board (FPCB), with the selected Plan purchaser’s entire Plan being paid off in full by FPCB. Also eligible will be pended Plan enrollments, which become active on October 15.

How Do I Get More Information?

I get it. There’s a lot to sort through and the choices can be confounding.

Here’s my advice: START SOMEWHERE.

Remember that saving early for college is proven to make a positive difference long-term.

Higher Education Financing

Consider investing in at least a year. 

The 1-year Florida University Plan is the only option that allows families to save for a child’s postsecondary education one year at a time, starting at less than $50 a month.

The 1-year plan also allows families to share in the cost of college, with different family members each saving toward one or more of the four years.

It’s a great time to sow seeds of security for your child’s educational future. Visit Florida Prepaid on the web or call 1.800.552.GRAD (4723).

Higher Education Financing

155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Fourteen: Try

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I *may* not be able to resist spell-checking!)

Today’s prompt: Try

“You won’t know unless you try.”

How often have you said that to yourself …. or to a child …. or to a friend who is not sure they are capable of a goal they are considering setting for themselves?

Not being able to run for the past year has been a *big* lesson in the fact that sometimes success isn’t an effort of trying harder. My body is not willing to be a part of the running world right now, and I have (kind of) made peace with that.

But for the things we can do but that our confidence challenges are keeping us from, maybe it’s time to reframe (yes, I am talking to myself here — anyone else who benefits — that’s a plus!).

I have a part-time job in the mornings that I truly love. I lay in bed Thursday night, thinking how grateful I am to be excited about waking up and working the next morning. I don’t think I ever felt that kind of excitement in 20 years at the job I left in 2014 (not that I wasn’t excited about the cause of children’s health insurance — I just never find a sweet spot of confidence + competence + cultural fit).

I made a mistake yesterday at that part-time job. This is a problem because the place prides itself on “pristine editing.” I *know* that at least two more editors after me see the work and have the opportunity to correct it, so the final is almost always perfect, but it’s easy to beat myself up for making the error in the first place.

[Note — my five minutes ended after the above paragraph and I had already written the ending (a lesson I’ve learned in five-minute writing world!). But I didn’t finish my thought so I’ll add that below under “the sixth minute and beyond.”]

Trying doesn’t always bring the reward we hope, but it builds something more intrinsically rewarding in the process.


The sixth minute and beyond:

I am reminded that even if my work wasn’t perfect, that’s one of the errors that will help me be better at this job in the future. I someone had just *said* “don’t ever make that error,” I may or may not have remembered as I went about my work.

But MAKING it, and owning up to it, means it will be a prominent consideration in my head every time I touch the work from Monday on. I learned by trying.

And by doing so, I became better at something I really enjoy doing (and am further motivated to find a way to keep doing it as part of my work/life jigsaw puzzle whose pieces seem to be shifting all the time.)

Writing Challenge

The Other F Word: A Show For Those of Us Who “Filled Out All the Forms”

I am famous among my friends for not having binge-watched anything. When we finally got a Netflix-enabled tv in our bedroom, I started Orange is the New Black (and made it through two episodes).

The Other F Word is the exception, though! I watched all of Season 1 (read my blog here) and — today– fit all of Season 2 into one afternoon! Woo hoo!

Before my observations, here’s the trailer so you get a sense of who we are talking about:

What Is The Other F Word?

This is a series that extends beyond young people and caricatures to represent life for people whose age corresponds to “the other ‘F’ word” – forties, fifties, etc.

It’s a little hard to talk in detail about the six episodes without inadvertently giving away spoilers, so I decided to share ten aspects of the series that stood out to me. I hope they encourage you to watch too!

The Music

I loved the music! I especially was besotted quickly by “It’s Just Me” by James Madx. (Listen here.) Here are the lyrics that especially spoke to me:

“Open your heart  …. and let me start to be a part of your story.”

So many of us in mid-life are seeing our stories re-written, either by fate or by choice. This song spoke to that, in my perception.

Being the Mom Who Filled Out All the Forms

It’s not a spoiler to say that one character, Amy, finds herself at a loss after both children have moved out (oh, and her husband chose to manifest his mid-life crisis by spontaneously deciding to quit his job and go to humanitarian work overseas for a year.)

“I filled out so many forms,” she says.

Me too, sister, me too.What to do now that there are less forms to complete and there’s still more life to live?

Dealing With Elderly Parents

One character (Orly) is having to cope with her parent’s obvious decline (long distance). Yep, been there done that (the decline part, not so much the long distance part).

Big big big props to The Other F Word for including the dilemmas we face when our parents age.

*** AND (oh my gosh) …. Holly Cate, who plays Orly, was Janice on As the World Turns, which my mom (and then I) watched for decades. Thanks for mentioning that, IMDb! ***

Dealing with Kids’ Crises

College-age daughter with a crisis? Check! College-age daughter who is over said crisis by the next conversation (after hours of mom futilely texting to see if she’s okay)? Check. Check. Check.

Most parents who have ever raised a college-aged child can relate to the realistic scenarios depicted in this show.

Passion Parties

I have never been to a “Passion Party” but this one looked fun!

The Gynecologist

This is such a micro thing but my goodness, Orly’s gynecologist has amazing delts!

(She also assumes Orly needs a perimenopause box …. you really need to watch all the episodes to see what the doctor can give her that will better suit her situation.)


These are character David’s way to characterize life milestones: “Before Children” and “After Divorce.”

Sounds typical for midlife.

About our intimacy choices:

You know, my life experience is pretty vanilla in some ways about the choices I have made. Still, I loved this line and understood (intellectually at least, LOL), the conundrum:

Since sex got easier, love got harder to find.

You know a show is a little edgy if you have to look at least one thing up in the Urban Dictionary!

Again, maybe this hearkens back to my vanilla life (but remember I had some pretty racy conversations as a counselor on the Florida AIDS Hotline back in the day).

There was one term in the six episodes I had to look up in the Urban Dictionary.

(Find out what term it was by clicking here. Did you already know what this meant? Be honest!).

When is it the wrong time to reinvent yourself?

One of the parents (at least) is a *bit* overbearing (think Tiger Mom). When her daughter starts to waver regarding her desire to keep doing crew (the activity that is ostensibly going to fund her college education), mom nearly goes off the deep end. What does she say?

“It’s way too late to reinvent yourself.”

The hilarity of saying this to a teenager is not lost on me. BUT, I spent my share of time being an overbearing gym mom with visions of college scholarships dancing in my head. I can see saying something so outlandish (or I could see pre-perspective crazed gym mom Paula saying it).

Those of us in our forties and fifties though? I vote for as much reinvention as we see fit!

Is there an “F” word for reinvention?

How about FUNDAMENTAL? Fundamental to this time in our lives, fundamental to our souls, and, occasionally, downright FUN!

Want to find out for yourself?

Click here to watch!!

Midlife Reinvention


155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Thirteen: Invite

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I *may* not be able to resist spell-checking!)

Today’s prompt: Invite

When I invited my friend Mary Jane to be my entire bridesmaid party of one, I walked down to her office, said “will you stand up for me at my wedding?” and that was that.

Wow, how things have changed. Many of the brides I know these days prepare elaborate “bridesmaid proposals” (here’s an entire Pinterest board full of them!).

Fun, right?

I definitely think brides should have fun with their bridesmaid invites, but I am personally a bit more basic. (I also probably belong in the “my unpopular opinion camp” for not being a HUGE fan of over-the-top gender reveals, but again — it’s not my baby (or money).

When it comes to our spiritual lives, it’s easy to be casual about how we give God access to our hearts, minds and spirits. I will admit lately it’s been a bit of an afterthought.

But if a prospective bride can put together an entire gift box with cute wording, a monogrammed wine glass, and a coordinated ensemble of goodies, along with the love for a friend that comes with the invitation, maybe I have in that a blueprint for how I should invite more divine moments, and more honesty with God, into MY life.

(I also must admit the “invite” prompt has now inserted “Just as I Am” as an earworm into my head. Thanks, Southern Baptist upbringing!)

The sweetest invitations in our lives do warrant a little extra prep time and bells and whistles. Once they are accepted, it’s a long-term deal.

Writing Challenge