About Paula Kiger

Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many.

Becoming more human, a tribute to a friend

My lifelong friend, Duane Archer-Buffum, passed away on November 23, 2018. This tribute is written to him.

I’ve asked myself a thousand times over the past few decades what would have happened if I had handled the conversation differently when you told me you were gay when we were teenagers (and had been seeing each other)*.

What if I had said, “I’m so glad you could trust me to tell me that. Other people in our world may not immediately be accepting, but I’ll be here for you.”

Instead, I fell apart. In my myopic teenage view of how the world would work, I saw this as something that made me a victim somehow.

Quite the opposite. It made me — eventually — an ally for the victimized.

I can’t remember how or when we found our way back to each other, to a place of friendship instead of anger, but I think it was quicker in reality than it seems in my mind.

It was quick enough that you visited me in Tallahassee. We went to dinner at Flamingo’s (RIP Flamingo’s). You talked to me about your courtship of Pam. It was quick enough (and healing enough) that I could talk with you honestly about my concerns about that relationship (as if I had any say ha ha). And eventually, Wayne and I ended up as guests at your wedding.

There were long stretches after your wedding where we didn’t talk at all. I moved to New York. You and Pam started your family. Your teaching career got underway.

Maybe it was Pam’s invitation to your 40th birthday that resulted in the first real time we spent together again. Of course I thought one of her sisters was her (thanks, faceblindness!) but she clarified that, fortunately.

And it was probably Facebook that made it easier for us to talk regularly again.

Events unfolded pretty rapidly once you decided to come out and once you started dating men. I remember reading in the Union County Times about some school board meeting where they brought up their concerns — in a decidedly critical Bible Belt way.

Whatever those concerns were that came before the school board, that’s not the vibe I got when the high school auditorium at capacity with people honoring you after your death on November 23 of last year. Facebook filled with tributes from people saying how you had changed their lives and their children’s lives (as a teacher).

I loved how much you loved acting. And God I loved how good you were at it. As much as you could have succeeded on bigger stages (regional? national?), I think your talents made a bigger difference for all the students you taught over 30 years, both the high school students you taught for so long and the elementary school students you had started teaching shortly before you died.

The parents of the elementary school students were bereft. They talked about how you had brought insecure children out of their shells, and about how much everyone was looking forward to the production of “Annie” that you were working on when you passed away.

I’m glad those elementary school kids had you, but I suspect the biggest impact you had was on the high school students who finally had an “out” teacher. Union County High School wasn’t the easiest place to be a gay kid (I suspect) and you told me how many students were relieved to have you to talk to. I’m so glad you were there for them.

I remember when I caught up to you after seeing you in “Beauty and the Beast” at Gateway Community College, how you were crying as you hugged me because it was so hard to leave that experience behind.

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute
After “Beauty and the Beast,” 2017

Cliches are stupid BUT I have to say I think the conversations we had in the few days after my mom’s death were graced by some weird serendipity. If the timing had been different, you probably wouldn’t be living with your dad when I was back in town for a few days to arrange her services and support my dad. I came to your house “to stop by” after I had been in Gainesville shopping for a dress to wear and of course it wasn’t a quick “stop.” It was an in-depth conversation that we extended to text after I got back to my parents’ house that lasted into the later hours.

“For Good” was sung at your memorial. There’s a reason this song is sung at so many goodbye occasions. It says exactly how we feel at the most difficult goodbyes. “…because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

There’s also a reason we came into each others’ lives. Even though it took me a long time to process that conversation we had where you told me you were gay and to realize that it wasn’t about me, maybe I’m being too hard on myself to think I should have had more insight more rapidly.

In looking back at our Facebook conversations, we talked in 2013 about how the Mormon church was changing its thinking about homosexuality (because you married a Mormon woman, she and many of your kids were still involved, so it mattered).

I said, “I think hearts change before policies and theology do.”

And you said, “So, you see how it would have been for me to come out in high school way back then.”

Meaning — even though in my replaying of that long-ago conversation in my mind I said “go forth and be who you were meant to be,” that wouldn’t have been right either.

I do regret how it still took years for me to really embrace what it means to be an ally, to finally retire treating our history as a punchline “I dated a guy but he turned out to be gay and then married a sweet Mormon girl, had six kids with her and then married his husband” and give it the respect it was due. It was two human beings growing up together and getting more in touch with the people they were meant to be.

I think the biggest change our relationship made for me (besides turning me into an ally — eventually) was that it made me a much more practical person about romantic love. And it made me realize that much of “romance” is a creation in our own heads shaped by the world we think we want. I had my own hefty set of insecurities as a teenager, and I was much more focused on what being your girlfriend and being part of your family would look like than on what kind of relationship I needed to grow into (and contribute to). Seriously, the body language in almost every photo of our teenage life says “clingy.”

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute

There’s a second thing our relationship did for me, and probably one of the reasons we complemented each other so well, and that was to push me to break the rules — a tiny bit — occasionally. I still can’t believe my parents let me go to senior skip day, but they did. I remember the hilarity (to us) of going through the McDonalds drive-through repeatedly, with you changing your accent every time to try to trick the employee(s). I remember “stealing baby Jesus” (again, thankfully this was pre-social media). I remember how we were supposed to play music (piano, you and flute, me) at Christine Prokop’s wedding reception after you played piano at the ceremony and you just didn’t feel like it so we blew it off (very sorry, Christine — I would apologize if I knew how to find you now!). And I hunted high and low for this picture, which to me is just a fun memory but that someone pointed out says “keep off the grass” … the grass we are most certainly standing on!

Seeing through different eyes, a tribute

Fortunately, our friendship only got better and better over the past seven or so years, particularly.

It wasn’t an easy period, as we both lost our moms (you in 2015 and me in 2018). You had some serious health problems and a few other issues you trusted me enough to share. However, it was a period that was capped off by you marrying Shane, who you called your soulmate.

I didn’t expect to see on a Friday night when I was scrolling through Facebook Shane’s announcement that you were gone.

I think the thing I grieve the most is knowing that, even though our communication was sporadic and mostly consisted of Facebook messages, I always knew the conversation would be so good. I also always knew that we would end it by saying we loved each other.

“For Good” was sung at your memorial. There’s a reason this song is sung at so many goodbye occasions. It says exactly how we feel at the most difficult goodbyes. “…because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

I was talking to your sister at the visitation period prior to your funeral. We were touching on some of the ups and downs of the past decade. Not to get into it here (heck, it was YOUR life so you know what happened and my readers don’t need to at this point), but the conversation veered briefly into various choices that had been made.

My response: “We’re all so very human.”

I truly believe that. I believe that no matter what faith tradition a person has (or if they have no faith tradition), the most courageous thing we can do is to be as true to ourselves as possible, and to support others in doing the same.

In one of our Facebook message exchanges, you said, “There were things … that I had to go through to be where I am now. I knew if I didn’t do it right now I would die before I was 60.”

I’m sure I scrolled right past the “die before I was 60” part. I mean, how likely would THAT be?

It turns out it was prescient.

You fit so much joy, drama and spirit into your life that I’m pretty sure you covered more than 55 years.

You’ll always be in my ear when someone tells me something about themselves that scares them, reminding me to hear what they’re saying (and feeling), even if it surprises me.

Although “For Good” is such an incredible song and so fitting as a goodbye, there’s another lyric from “Wicked” (from “As Long as You’re Mine”) that pertains to how I feel about the difference you made in my life.

“…you’ve got me seeing
Through different eyes”

Knowing you made me more human, taught me that breaking the rules can be a little bit exciting sometimes, and led me to see the world as a kaleidoscope when tunnel vision was the default.

I’ll be grateful, always.

Becoming more human, a tribute to a friend

*I didn’t know until decades later that I had been the first person you told. The conversation: “You know you were the first person that I ever told that I was gay to? And it was very hard because I knew I would break your heart and it broke mine just having to tell you. But look where you are now.” <3

Perspective on the gift of breath

Perspective on the gift of breath

PERSPECTIVE

I don’t feel as though I have much perspective right now, with the pandemic slowing our world down.

The time my mom spent in an ICU with so many breathing issues in late 2017/early 2018 is something I had compartmentalized in a sort of “medical/quality of life” box in my head. It also gave me a tremendous appreciation for respiratory therapists. I guess I had previously thought of this profession as “easy” in a way — you go to a program, get a certificate, and help people breathe better.

Now I know that it involves a blend of excellent math skills, sharp technical abilities, the energy to be dogged about finding solutions AND incredible people skills (to deal with frightened patients, alarmed family members and medical personnel who often don’t coordinate well with each other).

I know that it’s life and death (because my mom eventually died because she couldn’t breathe (not at the fault of a respiratory therapist, to be clear — I just mean I now see the stark difference between “helping someone breathe easier and helping someone stay alive”)).

I am so fortunate to still have my job (and that Wayne still has his). If anything, I feel guilty that things are so relatively easy. We aren’t being caregivers for a person with dementia right now as so many are. We don’t have little kids at home who we need to homeschool. It’s just us, going through pretty much our normal routines, deciding (me) which beer to have for our afternoon time on the porch (Wayne always has the same thing), watching “Tiger King” (I know — it’s not everyone’s cup of tea!).

But if I get this illness and can’t breathe, I know it’ll be in the hands of a respiratory therapist and the Great Physician to decide if I survive, and that makes me want to turn every day into something that’s memorable and nonroutine.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

Perspective on the gift of breath

Be a beacon by walking with, not by

On February 29, I gave the keynote speech at the Tallahassee Alumnae Panhellenic organization’s scholarship luncheon. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about service projects, and how to turn them from mandatory (in college) to voluntary (lifelong). I’m grateful for the fellowship shared with the women that day and the opportunity to share these thoughts.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by
Photo credit: Amy Zoldak

I do have a “real name” — as you see on the program — Paula Kiger.

However, over the years, my alter ego, “The Big Green Pen” has sort of taken over. It’s the name of my website and my social media “handle” almost everywhere. There are times I barely remember my legal name.

I got that name during the first phase of my career, when I was an administrator for Florida’s Healthy Kids program, which provided health insurance for uninsured children. When Healthy Kids started in the early 90s, long before social media was a thing, our signature color was green, and we had an abundance of green felt tip pens around.

As I would edit the work of others with the green pen, I earned a nickname behind my back (not to my face) — the big green pen — because apparently I was a tough, some would say ruthless, editor.

Once someone finally told me that was my nickname, I got on the bandwagon and it stuck.

These days, I try to position it as a positive thing, not something that instills fear. I try to encourage people with the hashtag #WriteOptimistically.

All of that editing when I was supposed to be shaping health policy must have been a sign, though.

When I left that job in 2014 after almost 20 years, I thought I was going to go in search of my bliss. It turns out I went in search of depends and a hospital bed, as my father-in-law got ill and moved in with us. For the next three years, I was doing a variety of freelance jobs and taking care of him as his health deteriorated and he went through two bouts of cancer. 

Fortunately, one of those freelance jobs was with SmartBrief, a business-to-business publisher of newsletters. I had prayed for something I could do early in the morning before my father-in-law was moving around, that involved writing and editing, and voila there it was! I started freelancing for SmartBrief in January 2017. My father-in-law passed away in July 2017, and eventually I got hired full-time as their nonprofit sector editor in September 2018.

My job at SmartBrief is to edit newsletters that tell members of organizations what the latest news is in their industry. For example, I do the National Emergency Number Association newsletter, so if you have any questions about dispatching, I have the 4-1-1 on 9-1-1.

One of my newsletters is BoardSource, which has to do with all things nonprofit boards. Every single day, I walk away with an aha of some kind and this newsletter is a big reason why.

One aha, which really shouldn’t surprise me but somehow still does, is the amount of money some people have to contribute toward philanthropies. In the issues I’ve edited in February, 

Those are all such laudable efforts, but they make me ask how I can make a difference, seeing as how I don’t have millions to give. 

I have three examples, one I gathered from SmartBrief and two drawn from my life, to make the case that you don’t have to have millions to make a difference.

Let’s start with my friend Diane Berberian. She’s a visually impaired triathlete whose vision has gotten worse over time because of macular degeneration. She’s also a stage four head, throat and neck cancer survivor. (If you don’t know what a triathlon is, it’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. Hard enough to do when you can see exactly where you’re going!)

Diane has accomplished so many things since becoming visually impaired. She was on the USA National Paratriathlon Team in 2013. She represented the US at the Paratriathlon Worlds, where she placed 5th overall. She won the National Championship for Visually Impaired Females at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in Washington, D.C., in October 2014 then traveled to Wilmington, N.C., where she won the Paratriathlete Division of the Beach 2 Battleship Half Ironman. 

I was Diane’s sighted guide once at a 5K at the Tampa Zoo (just a 5K, not a half-marathon or triathlon!). Diane has had other assistance as a runner, some coming from Delta Gamma members. One of their philanthropies is Service for Sight. She benefited from help from DG members when she was running the Boston Marathon. They got her to and from places by assisting with public transportation. They assisted with the athletes’ banquet. Many members who were communications majors worked with Diane to provide interviews about being a visually impaired athlete and how Service for Sight helped. Many Delta Gamma sisters have been her sighted guides in races from the 5K to the half marathon (13.1 miles). Many DGs guide other runners at races in Boston and other areas.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by
With Diane at the Tampa Zoo 5K in 2015

She was helped so much that she wanted to be a bigger part of the organization, so she did something that wasn’t an option for her in the 70s: she pledged as an adult initiate in 2017!

Diane shared with me that she has a wish for other Alumnae Panhellenic women that she has interacted with. While it’s easy to write a check, and important as none of the causes in the world can succeed without cash, she sees a way that generations can work more directly with each other. One woman she knows still helps a visually impaired gentleman even though it has been 15 years since she was in college. Diane says, “I still think I have a lot to learn from this generation and they could learn from me.” She encourages the collegiates to go from service hours being something you have to do to something you want to do.

I’d also like to share a personal story about going from mandatory service hours to service because you care. 

My niece, Jessica, was an ADPi at Valdosta State University around 2010. Prior to her time at ADPi, and long before she had made any decisions about sororities or college life, she stayed in a Ronald McDonald House with my sister-in-law and her siblings. (Our family has a congenital heart arrhythmia known as Long QT. The discovery that several members of the family had this arrhythmia, after my sister-in-law Ann died in her sleep and left behind three very young children, led to a long process of working with different specialists to figure out who else had Long QT, which is for the most part treatable once you know about it.) Jessica and her mom, my sister-in-law Mary, and their family had traveled from Thomasville to Jacksonville for testing, so they needed someplace to stay and RMH of Jacksonville was there for them.

Fast forward to college Jessica and her ADPi life. As those of you who were ADPis know, the philanthropy of ADPi is the Ronald McDonald House. Jessica, as part of her service hours, helped clean the RMH in Macon, which is a bit of a drive from Valdosta but the closest one in Georgia from VSU. 

Jessica is now married and living in Huntsville, Alabama, with her husband, Eric. I showed up in Thomasville, her childhood home seven hours away from Huntsville, on October 12 for a baby shower for Jessica, because she was expecting a baby on November 27. I really pleaded with her to make it Nov. 28 so we would share a birthday, but this baby had his own ideas for when he should come. When I arrived for the shower, my sister-in-law said, “have I got a story for you.” It turns out Jessica’s water had broken the night prior and she had given birth to Paul Thomas Viale just a few hours later. Because he was at 32 weeks, he was transported to the NICU at TMH. Jessica and Eric had to figure out where to stay while Paul was cared for at the NICU, and they ended up being at Ronald McDonald House Tallahassee for about 10 days! 

Right after Paul was born, before Jessica had transferred to Tallahassee to join Eric and Paul, my daughter, Tenley (who had also been an ADPi and done service hours at the Ronald McDonald House) and I visited her. The first thing she said was, “wow I guess all those service hours paid off!.”

Of course Ronald McDonald House doesn’t quiz incoming parents to ask if they ever scrubbed a Ronald McDonald House floor before, but having done so still gave Jessica a more direct sense of why those service hours mattered.

The RMH made it possible for Jessica and Eric to be close to the hospital, have essentially unlimited food, have access to a breast pump, and get their laundry done — all for a donation of $10 a day that was waived for families that couldn’t afford it. 

I asked Jessica about some ways that people can give to Ronald McDonald House beyond writing checks. Just as Diane has advice for Alumnae Panhellenic members, so does Jessica. It can be as simple as donating the pop tab off of your soda can. Ronald McDonald House locations need bulk items such as paper towels and toilet paper. (Typically the Ronald McDonald Houses have suggested lists, however during the pandemic this process has changed. The Tallahassee facility, for example, suggests Publix or Costco gift cards right now.)

I want to ask you how you chose your jewelry today, if you have any on. 

Did you choose it because it has sentimental value? Maybe it matches your outfit. Maybe you have the same issue I have sometimes and only one necklace in the drawer was untangled enough to make it out of the house.

This is what I chose to wear today. [Here I demonstrated the item I was wearing around my neck.] It didn’t come from a rack at the store and it won’t ever need polishing, but it does have an important job. It’s special not because of how it looks, but because of what it does.

These beacons are made and distributed by Samaritan, an organization in Seattle that helps homeless people and others in need of assistance. It was started by Jonathan Kumar, who was eating lunch in downtown Seattle one day and saw a man at an intersection. He was a homeless man holding a sign that said he needed medicine for his diabetes. 

No one was helping the man.

Specifically, Kumar says “no one even acknowledged that he existed.”

As Kumar started talking with the gentleman, the man said, “I’ve got the wrong look for this, the wrong skin color, the wrong clothing. Nobody actually believes that I’m homeless.” Jonathan called what the man was experiencing something different than the definition most of us would give: poor. The man, Kumar said, was experiencing “relational poverty.” Dr. Bruce Perry defined relational poverty as “a deep lack of the connectedness with others that we all need to survive and to be well.”

Kumar was still working in the tech field, and his wheels started turning. Could tech help the man and others like him?

Jonathan decided to try to alleviate this relational poverty through an app. He built the Samaritan app, and he also developed bluetooth beacons that people such as the man he had met could wear. The Samaritan organization has the motto “walk with, not by.”

The beacons are distributed by approved clinics and nonprofit counselors.

When a user of the Samaritan app walks by (within 30 yards) someone with one of the beacons, the app notifies them of that person’s story and need. That person can choose then and there to make a donation that will help the individual, and the individual can use the funds at places like grocery stores, barber shops, outdoor supply stores and coffee shops. Nonprofit counselors can also help the people apply the funds to other things like phone bills or bus tickets. When the batteries run low, the people have to go meet with the counselor (once a month). The meeting is as much about the face to face as it is a fresh battery.

One person who had a beacon and ended up with housing through its connections said this is “the first time in seven years people have seen me for who I am, not what I look like or where I’ve come from.”

You can send encouraging messages to individuals — they love that. It’s an addition that brings the human connection back and helps people not feel invisible.

What if there was an app that told you people’s stories and deepened your connection?

Tallahassee is a little different – we’re not much of a pedestrian town. For me, one way that same deepening of connections happened was through Facebook, and got me in touch with Going Places, a local drop-in center for homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth under the age of 22, many of whom have been kicked out of their homes by their parents. I read about Going Places on Facebook and the web, but my understanding of their mission and the heart of the place changed when I spent three hours with them at their Thanksgiving dinner. 

After that Thanksgiving event, I gave a ride to a Going Places participant and her boyfriend. She was 16, pregnant, and working security at night to try to make a way for herself and her baby.

Having spent that time at Going Places, especially with that young woman, changed things for me. Now when I do write a check, it will be for more (if possible) because I understand in a more personal way why their services matter.

Think about whatever your philanthropy was when you were in college — are there stories there you need to return to? If not, is there a way you can connect with someone else’s story and make them feel less invisible? Maybe it’s cleaning a toilet again at Ronald McDonald House. Maybe it’s reading to a visually impaired person or driving them to a doctor’s appointment. Maybe it’s as simple as saying hello the next time you encounter a homeless person when every instinct says to ignore them and walk the other way. 

When you leave our luncheon, find a way to walk with someone in need, not by them. Be their beacon of hope.

Be a beacon by walking with, not by


Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

Are you familiar with Honor Flight? Honor Flight gives veterans the experience of being celebrated. Typical Honor Flight programs feature a day-long trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials and be honored, all expenses paid.

Unfortunately, all Honor Flight activities have been postponed through at least June 30, 2020, due to the pandemic.

Honor Flight Tallahassee was supposed to be today. Since the actual flight can’t take place, the organization, its alumni and supporters like me are participating in a virtual Honor Flight.

Since I’m using this as my Five Minute Friday response, with the prompt being “another,” I’m going to share a five-minute free write first. After that, I’ll share some more memories of my involvement with Honor Flight so far.

ANOTHER

There will be another Honor Flight Tallahassee that involves an airplane, physical contact as hands are shaken, hugs dispensed and physical aid assisted to disabled vets.

It won’t be the April 18, 2020, Honor Flight though.

I can’t remember when I learned about Honor Flight, but it didn’t take long before I set my sights on being a guardian (one of the volunteers assigned to spend the day with one of the honored veterans and help them have the best experience possible (and stay physically safe)).

I just know it was long enough ago that every year that goes by without reaching this goal creates a little more of a sadness that it may never come to fruition.

What I have to remind myself is that I need to see this, not from the lens of what I am not getting to do, but from the perspective that it is a gift to the Honor Flight program that there are so many willing and capable volunteers who also have the means to pay the $500 fee.

I believe in self-examination and the need to ask ourselves hard questions, and Honor Flight is one of those things that leads me to ask myself some deeper questions.

Am I wanting to do this for the right reasons? It’s easy to think about how great this experience would look on social media, but would I do it even if no picture were ever posted, no status ever updated? (The answer is yes, but I’ve been in the microinfluencer world long enough that almost every opportunity is, to be honest, weighed against its social media potential.)

Can I find a way to be supportive without ever going myself? And the answer to this is yes, too, but that doesn’t mean I won’t grieve the loss of the opportunity to experience it in person.

***end of five minutes***

Honor Flight Memories

I have applied once (last year) and was not accepted as a Guardian, and this year’s application doesn’t matter since the trip was delayed. The likelihood that I’ll get to go in the future is uncertain — obviously the number of WWII vets diminishes every year as they age and pass away. There’s also a $500 fee if you get accepted — some years that’s easier to do than others (but if I ever get accepted, I fully intend to scrape it together!). Meaning — I don’t know if I’ll ever have the opportunity.

For now, though, here are some posts and images over the past few years from my involvement with Honor Flight.

In 2017, my lovely friend Becky put together a banquet to raise money for Honor Flight, along with the Chiles High Student Government Association. I shared information about the event in this blog post.

In this blog post, I wrote about volunteering at Brewfest. One of the beneficiaries of the funds raised was Honor Flight Tallahassee.

In this blog post, I wrote about a story in the Reserve Officers Association newsletter from SmartBrief that discussed an all-women Honor Flight. This one is scheduled for October 7, so here’s hoping it can still happen!

I talk about Honor Flight Tallahassee in this #GarnetGoldAndGood video I created as part of a Toastmasters exercise where I gave an ignite speech. (The Honor Flight part starts at 3:44 if you don’t want to have to see Jameis and the crab legs LOL.)

In 2015, Honor Flight veterans were honored as the VIPs at a July 4 5K here in Tallahassee.

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

My friend, Laura, and I went together to the “welcome home” portion of Honor Flight Tallahassee in 2016. What a great memory.

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

How the virtual Honor Flight is working

Here are things you can do if you want to be involved today (although many of these actions can extend beyond today).

Like and follow the Honor Flight Tallahassee Facebook page. On April 18, 2020, the page will share the flight day schedule virtually. Pictures will be posted all day around the time the group would normally arrive at each monument, highlighting special moments from the 2013-2019 flights.

If you have an Honor Flight Tallahassee t-shirt, wear it on April 18 (even though you’ll probably be at home!) Post a selfie in your Honor Flight shirt with an encouraging message for our veterans! (I haven’t gotten to that part yet, but I’ll drop the picture in later).

Share your favorite Honor Flight Tallahassee and veteran memories, pictures or videos throughout the day. Post them on the Honor Flight Tallahassee Facebook page or tag them on your own page. Use the hashtag #HonorFlightTLH so they can capture your posts across all social media channels.

Honor Flight prioritizes veterans from World War II, Korean War and Vietnam wars for flights, but the Virtual Honor Flight is for everyone! Share a picture or tribute to your favorite veteran(s) no matter when or where they served (or are currently serving) our country. Be sure to use #HonorFlightTLH for these posts, too!

Reach out today. Many veterans do not use Facebook. In this time of social distancing, it is more important than ever to stay connected. If you know a veteran, give them a call! Ask them to share memories and stories from their extraordinary lives and service. Or read them a few posts and comments from the Virtual Honor Flight to remind them how much we care.

Thank a veteran. Write a note of gratitude or ask your young family members to draw a picture. Tallahassee Honor Flight will make sure your notes are given to a veteran who goes on the next flight. Drop your notes in the mail to: Honor Flight Tallahassee, PO Box 12033, Tallahassee, FL 32317

Know any WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans who haven’t been on a flight? Talk to them about Honor Flight and encourage them to apply for the next flight. Applications are available here.

Tallahassee Honor Flight is watching the public health situation closely and still hopes to host a flight in 2020. They rely on the generosity of our community to raise money, so please consider a donation (this is a link to my friend Becky’s fundraiser) or even hosting a Facebook Fundraiser if you feel so inclined.

(Note, I’ve adapted the suggestions here from information on the Honor Flight Tallahassee Facebook page.)

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

In closing

I’d be lying if I said I have made peace with the idea that I won’t have another chance at going on an Honor Flight as a guardian. For today, though, I’ll settle for hoping I can encourage another person to get interested themselves in this deserving cause.

Honor Flight: 2020 calls for another way

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news

How long have you been under a stay-at-home order? Ours officially began in Tallahassee/Leon County on March 25, but Wayne and I cut our outings down before that (I lose track!).

No matter how long you’ve been out of the social circuit, I’m guessing it’s grating on you in one way or another. (Let me also take this moment to thank all of the health care professionals and essential workers who are still on that front lines every day. I admire and appreciate you so very much.)

Social distancing will save lives

For the rest of us, we still must hunker down to flatten the curve. Social distancing doesn’t just protect us; it protects other people from whatever we may be unknowingly carrying. Everyone needs to take responsibility for putting distance between themselves and others while the coronavirus is still spreading.

But I’m bored!

Wayne and I are fortunate. I’m working from home as usual (and a bit busier than ever), and Wayne is still working, albeit at home. Even so, it’s easy for the days and hours to run together without some of our usual out-of-home excursions.

Enter: THE NEWSPAPER.

I have known for a long time, as has anyone who even slightly follows the industry, that newspapers are struggling. The struggles were brought home in a deeply local way this week when staff members (and friends) at my hometown paper, the Tallahassee Democrat, were put on rolling furlough. Staff members will be on furlough for five days per month.

I love local newspapers (even though I have been disappointed to see the decline in the quality of the print versions over the past few years — along with the loss of editorial rigor in the digital versions that comes with the territory when turnaround times are so tight).

To that end, five ways your socially distanced life can be improved upon by the newspaper:

Read it by yourself

Let’s start with the most obvious. Reading the newspaper is a great way to pass the time, while also being entertained and informed.

Besides information about coronavirus, today’s Tallahassee Democrat entertained by sharing how a group of local siblings entertained their elderly neighbors with a socially distant concert. It informed by updating readers regarding the status of Killearn Country Club, a course that has been around since 1967 and has experienced significant decline over the past few years.

Read it with others

Here’s an idea. Join an online readalong. Every Sunday morning, hundreds of people “read” the New York Times together through the New York Times Readalong, which is broadcast on Facebook Live, LinkedIn, Periscope and YouTube.

This morning, for example, we had as our guest Prof. Andrew Hacker, who recently wrote “Downfall: The Demise of a President and His Party,” discussed New York Times articles and we also spoke with Dr. Lisa Ganghu, who gave her perspective of dealing with coronavirus in New York City. It’s not just reading the paper, it’s joining a community that loves print and wants it to survive.

Here’s today’s readalong:

NOTE: Although I am partial to the New York Times Readalong because I’m a producer, I’m sure there are lots of other options. For example, here’s a link to authors that are reading children’s books online.

Read a newspaper from somewhere else

I read multiple newspaper stories every week due to my work, and some of my favorites are publications from places I’m not likely to ever have an opportunity to visit. Doing so gives me perspective and helps me understand a new part of the world.

Many international newspapers have free online versions. Here are a few finds that caught my eye:

A BBC photo essay about discarded gloves.

An opinion piece in The National (United Arab Emirates) urging people to document this time in the world’s history, to aid in “future studies of our economic and social development.”

A China Daily piece about how to make Pu’er tea (a fermented tea originating from the Yunnan province).

Write for it

Have you ever read a Letter to the Editor or other opinion submission to a newspaper and thought, “I could do better than that” or “But I want my voice to be heard”? This is your chance.

Channel this extra time and those thoughts bouncing around in your head through your fingers and turn them into something that’s a candidate to be published!

My lovely friend and fellow advocate, Cynthia Changyit Levin, wrote a great primer on how to craft an effective letter to the editor.

Here’s an example of one of my letters to the editor.

You can also write about something you know. Even though our local theater scene is dark (at least for traditional in-person performances), there is likely still fertile ground for writing about theater. There’s history of local theater, thoughts about how theater will get started back up again once we can all go out, interviews with interesting actors, directors and theater fans. Check with your local newspaper to pitch them (if you can find someone who isn’t furloughed).

Origami

I can’t say I’ve tried this myself, but give me a few weeks and maybe I will!

(We still get a paper version of the Democrat, thanks to the previous owner of our home, who I suppose hasn’t canceled his subscription. I would try, but one of the things that has suffered from all the downsizings in the newspaper world is, in my opinion, customer service. I figure it’ll be harder to get a human being who understands I need to stop it than to just keep enjoying it until it goes away(?). I also kind of like the feel of the paper paper in my hands and having a reason to go outside every morning, however briefly.

Newspaper rose anyone?

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news
Credit: Instructables Craft

Newspapers matter

There’s not going to be one strategy that can singlehandedly get us through this time of being #AloneTogether.

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration for making the time pass more quickly.

I hope you’ll consider subscribing and supporting local journalism, which is so critical.

5 ways newspapers do more than deliver news

Whatever you choose to do, please stay safe and stay a minimum of 6 feet — or two arms-length — away from others.

Once we can all meet up again, I look forward to hearing about how the newspaper played a part in keeping your mind active while we’ve been #AloneTogether.

Disclosure: I did this post in conjunction with The Ad Council. I was not compensated, and all opinions are my own.

Five Minute Friday: Now

Five Minute Friday: Now

NOW

It’s hard not to get lost in the questions these days.

A trip to the store — is now the time I’m going to breathe in air droplets that contain a deadly virus? Or will I just get the banana I intended to pick up in produce?

A walk in the neighborhood, when I come within five feet of a fellow neighbor who is walking instead of the required six. Is now the time when my life will change?

A food delivery (or pickup) because I believe strongly in supporting our local restaurants that are on life support at best. Is now an acceptable time to take the food I paid for?

All of the questions swirl, juxtaposed with a life that is slower than it was just a month ago. We sit on the porch and have a drink together at the end of the day (we both still have traditional work days, but we’re both working from home — me as usual and Wayne because his office sent him home to work).

I ask, wow did we go through all that effort and finally end up in a house that doesn’t have us in a financial stranglehold, just to end up not being able to enjoy it?

So many moments in my life, I’ve told myself … enjoy this moment NOW (when the kids were little, for example, or when I was sitting in a Broadway theater enjoying the show).

Now is the time to remember the beauty of each moment, and to pray for all of those that don’t have the blessing of drinking it all in.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

Five Minute Friday: Now

Left-footed boots and more: March SmartBrief highlights

At the beginning of March (32 short days ago), I had the heart-filling opportunity to read to students at Ruediger Elementary School during #ReadUnited, a United Way campaign to encourage childhood reading.

Left-footed boots and more: March SmartBrief highlights

Who knew this picture would seem so anachronistic just a month later? An open school! People sitting within six feet of each other! People breathing the same air! Now, of course, the physical school is closed and everything has changed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although much of our content at SmartBrief has been taken over by coronavirus stories, we did talk about other things last month. Here are my favorite stories (and none of them are about the pandemic).

BoardSource

Unfortunately, we have had our share of hurricanes here in North Florida. After Hurricane Michael, my friends and I spent a day volunteering at a drop-off center for donations. I was assigned to take the clothing contributions that came in and put them in a holding area. I am as utterly guilty of this as anyone else, but some of the things people brought were clearly of the “this has been in our closet for five years and now is as good a time as any to get rid of it” variety vs. “this is something that could clearly be used by a hurricane victim.”

That’s why this story in the March 2 issue about when physical donations hinder instead of helping rang so true.

Here’s an excerpt:

A man showed up to the Seattle homeless service provider with a large box full of new, waterproof, cold-weather boots, a valuable commodity to survive Seattle’s cold, damp winters. Then, Reynolds took a closer look at the boots. They were all for the left foot.

The article goes on to give specific tips for people who want to donate items instead of money, such as the fact that “socks are almost always in need.”

Left-footed boots and more: March SmartBrief highlights

Business Transformation SmartBrief

In the March 30 issue of the Business Transformation SmartBrief, we shared Jane Keith’s article about what she learned from guiding her team through an implementation of their own enterprise planning software product. “Ownership is important,” she wrote, as she described why organizational change is most likely to succeed if people feel heard.

I’ve experienced this time and time again over the course of my career. Stories like this will always make my “favorites” list.

International City/County Management Association

One of the things we hope our municipal agencies and elected officials will do is to keep us safe. Accidents happen, of course, but accidents that happen because people shirked their responsibility are different.

This article about the collapse of the Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans in the March 12 issue documents the “shirking responsibility” type of situation. (To be clear, it sounds like some of the details are still shaking out, and everyone is innocent until found guilty, but there were lines in the article (“Kevin Richardson, another New Orleans building inspector, pleaded guilty to accepting $65,000 in bribes in exchange for not reporting building violations and issuing false inspection reports”) for example, that I found infuriating.

I channeled that fury into a post I wrote for the Lead Change Group. The post juxtaposed the blatant disregard for human life exhibited by the New Orleans inspectors with the way a physician, Dr. Anthony Gbollie Charles, approached his responsibilities are the medical professional in charge of Lillian Chason’s case as documented in the book “Breathless.”

Left-footed boots and more: March SmartBrief highlights

National Association of Social Workers

Who knew when Social Work Month kicked off on March 1 that so many social workers would have abruptly transitioned to providing services via telephone and the internet by March 31? The end of the month undoubtedly did not hold the celebration they expected (or deserved). At least this piece in the March 20 issue gave them some well-earned recognition. (It was directed to social workers in Iowa, but it applies across the board.)

National Emergency Number Association

The topic of this article from the March 19 issue isn’t new. It covers the trauma dispatchers face from hearing the absolute worst moments of people’s lives, as well as the proposed 911 SAVES Act, which would reclassify first responders from a federal perspective. The reclassification would take them from being “administrative service” (clerical) to “protective service” and provide better benefits, training and recognition.

Reserve Officers Association

My mother-in-law was blind, so I have a sizable soft spot for visually impaired people. That’s why I loved this article in the March 9 issue. It explains the artificial intelligence remote assistance (AIRA) system that helps visually impaired veterans through a combination of glasses fitted with online connectivity and sighted volunteers. As a side note, I discovered another way to help visually impaired people, Be My Eyes, through the BoardSource newsletter.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honorary

In the March 30 issue, we shared a story about how physicists at Harvard had created a more refined image of a black hole than the Event Horizon Telescope had created previously.

I really liked the description scientist Alexandru Lupsasca gave to describe the challenge of this work an explain why computer simulations are necessary. He said this type of imaging is like “sitting in New York and trying to take an up-close picture of a quarter in LA.”

UN Wire

Here’s the thing about UN Wire in March. Out of 13 issues, 12 of them had a coronavirus story as the top story. Not surprising, right? The one noncoronavirus top story was on March 6, about how girls still face threats after 25 years of progress. Seeing as how coronavirus can’t possibly be good for mitigating any of those threats, I guess the whole situation comes full circle, doesn’t it?

A little more coronavirus content

I realize the above subhead is about the least attractive subhead in the world, BUT I am proud of what SmartBrief is doing to help keep people informed about the coronavirus pandemic, in a way that is hopefully unique and useful.

The Special Report on Coronavirus comes out every Tuesday and Friday. You can subscribe here. Also, SmartBrief is donating $1 to the WHO COVID Solidarity Response Fund for every new reader referred.

Even this sort of relates to the coronavirus

Sorry, but it does! However, hopefully it holds some interest beyond pandemic life. I wrote a post about why empathy matters when leaders are guiding their organizations through a crisis such as the current pandemic. I’d love for you to read/share. Here it is.

If you’ve read this far, you’ve earned a coronavirus-free section!

A few weeks ago, I received the business cards issued to my colleagues and me to reflect our logo change since Future bought SmartBrief. The whole experience as orchestrated by Moo was so much fun and so delightful. Had the whole world not essentially gone into hibernation (except for all the incredible essential workers), I would have done a cute social media “unboxing.” Now that seems tone-deaf. People are being furloughed and losing their livelihoods, so it’s not the time. But I do want to share what a great job Moo did here:

Left-footed boots and more: March SmartBrief highlights
1. The outside of the box says “Yay!”
2. The seal says, “Made in Providence with pride”
3. The insider of the box says, “My goodness, you’re gorgeous! (We’re talking to your cards. But ok, you are too.)
4. The finished product is nicely arranged, with a card holder.

I love the attention Moo paid to how they presented their product. I also was happy to get my own business cards; it’s a small milestone I guess, but it was meaningful because I am proud of the work we do and of the effort we have put in over the past month, both to meet our usual standards and obligations and to rise to the occasion of coping with the arrival of the pandemic in the US.

About Future and SmartBrief

Each month, I share the open positions at SmartBrief and Future for anyone who is interested in being a part of finding and sharing stories through business-to-business newsletters.

wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

When there are open positions at SmartBrief and Future plc, they can be found at this link. If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further.

To subscribe to one (or more) SmartBrief newsletters, including the “end of the work day” While You Were Working, for which I am a contributing editor, click here.

If you aren’t in a subscribing mood, you can still keep up with us at the site of our parent company, Future; on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram.

Left-footed boots and more: March SmartBrief highlights

*Note: My opinions about the stories are my personal viewpoint; they do not reflect an endorsement by my employer.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Here in Florida, none of us can plan to eat in a restaurant until at least May 8, since the governor closed them because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It won’t replace the experience of dining in, but Paul Hartford, author of “Waiter to the Rich and Shameless: Confessions of a Five-Star Beverly Hills Server,” has graciously shared an excerpt from his book about his time working in a famous Beverly Hills restaurant (referred to in the book as “The Cricket Room”). It’s available now through Tuesday on Kindle for $0.99.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Excerpt from “Waiter to the Rich and Shameless: Confessions of a Five-Star Beverly Hills Server”

“What’s your taste, Mr. Depp?” said Vincent the sommelier.

“Well, I normally go for French wines, La Mission, Haut Brion, but even a really well-made Margaux might be okay.”

“Let me suggest two wines that will absolutely knock your socks off. They are both the biggest cult names coming out of Napa right now.”

Oh my fucking God, how inappropriately casual. A sommelier is supposed to be very professional and aloof, not a sports buddy.

“Sure,” said Depp.

As I turned around to go to the kitchen, I saw Vino leaning in and pointing at the menu and I heard Depp saying, “I’ve heard of them but I’ve never really tried them.”

Next thing I knew, Vino was decanting a 1997 Screaming Eagle, a highly regarded Napa Cabernet, rated at 100 points by Robert Parker. Depp asked me to bring glasses to his crew as well.

A bit later, Vino asked Depp if he would like to have him open the 1991 Harlan Estate so he could decant it for a while, and Depp concurred. Unfortunately, Johnny was not too fond of the Screaming Eagle and his exact words were: “It’s not desirable to my palate.” So he only finished one glass and his crew drank the rest.

Later on he admitted to liking the Harlan Estate a lot better, though “It’s still not really what I like in a wine but I do like it a whole lot better than the Eagle. Probably because it has some age on it, you know?” he explained to Vino. The guy seemed to know his wines, probably from living in France.

By then the “Pirate” movies must have grossed around $3 billion worldwide, so hopefully the studios were picking up the tab because the Eagle was priced at almost $7,000 and the Harlan near $4,000 per bottle. That’s a lot of cash to drop on wine you don’t like.

I told Vino later before Depp left, “Hey, man,” eyeing Johnny’s feet, “His socks are still on. WTF?”

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

About service professionals in the time of coronavirus

Paul’s book was, to me, a fascinating look at the profession of serving as well as the celebrity world.

I suppose not all people who serve in the restaurant industry can tell Beverly Hills stories, but they all have stories, and most of them work extraordinarily hard.

They have all been on my mind amid the closures brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. I asked Paul to comment on this situation, and this is what he said:

Servers are one of the hardest-hit segments of our economy during this social distancing mandate, and virtual tip jars are a fantastic adaptation to help out-of-work servers weather the storm. I also think it’s a great idea to buy gift certificates from your favorite restaurants to be used later (that’s one of the ideas mentioned here). This wouldn’t help servers directly but could keep their places of employment afloat.

I have been giving $5 a day to a randomly selected server via the DC Virtual Tip Jar since I found out about it on March 17 (except for March 23, when I gave $3.23 to each person named Mia on the list in memory of Mia Sofia). I chose this because a) it was the first virtual tip jar I found out about and b) because Washington, D.C., has been so good to me for fun, advocacy and work (my employer is headquartered there). I think the list had about 1200 people on it on 3/17 and now, less than two weeks later, it has 4,820! My $5 a day won’t do much, but hopefully it at least brings a ray of sunshine to these people.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Wrapping it up

Now that we’ve been entertained by mental images of Johnny Depp sipping wine, let’s recap:

If you’re interested in an exceptionally affordable (and good) read, pick up Waiter to the Rich and Shameless on Kindle for $0.99 between now and Tuesday.

If you want to help a suddenly unemployed server out, find a virtual tip jar and drop in a contribution. You can find the DC Virtual Tip Jar here; one for Baton Rouge, La., here; one for Gainesville, Fla., here; one for Portland, Ore., here, one for Tallahassee, Fla., (and other cities) that provides randomized results for you to give to here, and one that benefits RedEye employees in Tallahassee here. Unstoppable Software has created a master list of virtual tip jars it’s aware of here.

If you’d like to buy a gift card from a favorite restaurant that you can use later, it will help the restaurant out and you’ll have something to look forward to when all of this is over! You’re all resource full people, so I trust you can figure out how to buy a gift card from a favorite restaurant. For my Tallahassee friends, check out this “Open for Takeout” map created by our Office of Economic Vitality. It’ll give you a head start.

A virtual visit with Johnny Depp

Stay safe, friends.

Mia Sofia is changing families’ tomorrows

Mia Sofia is changing families' tomorrows

TOMORROW

Tomorrow, March 23, 2020, is a very special day. It is Mia’s birthday.

Mia Sofia is the daughter of my friends, Jelina and Erik. Jelina gave birth to Mia last year on March 23, but Mia had died in utero.

I have never seen two parents so determined to keep their child’s spirit alive — in such a gracious way and a way that helps other families too.

Jelina and Erik have worked hard since March 23 of last year to raise funds for Cuddle Cots so other families who need more time with their babies who will not physically survive can have that time.

Here’s what I wrote last year about Mia and the effort to fund more Cuddle Cots.

This year, Erik and Jelina are asking us to do an act of kindness in memory of Mia, and also to wear lavender and lemon yellow, colors that were part of Mia’s decor.

The self-isolation most of us are practicing amidst this pandemic is going to force us to be a bit more creative than usual with the acts of kindness we choose.

I have decided to find the bartenders/servers named “Mia” on the DC Virtual Tip Jar and make a donation of $3.23 to each one, and to let them know it’s in memory of Mia. It won’t alleviate their biggest financial woes, but it’s something.

I hope that “something” illuminates their day the way Mia Sofia brightened our lives without saying a single word.

I know her mother, dad and little sister Emma will bask in the glow created tomorrow by all the people who show love for her.

Mia Sofia is changing families' tomorrows

Other things that are happening on March 23 to honor Mia

Aren’t these lemonade bows perfect?

Mia Sofia is changing families' tomorrows

They’re made by Little Royal Designs. Fifty percent of the proceeds from the sale of each bow will go toward purchasing a Cuddle Cot for Lakeside Medical Center. I plan to give the one I bought as a gift, but it will find its way into an Instagram post tomorrow before I pass it on.

This is the plan:

Mia Sofia is changing families' tomorrows

There are families facing tomorrows they don’t yet know about when they will have to say goodbye way too soon. Thank you, Mia and family, for the difference you are making for those tomorrows.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

Acceptance costs nothing

Less

Five Minute Friday Less

LESS

Yesterday, I participated in a volunteer gathering to do “headstone restoration” at a local cemetery where veterans are buried.

“‘These colors don’t run’ so we are not canceling” is what the coordinator said Friday night on Facebook.

Things are canceling left and right due to Coronavirus, but I decided I needed to show up and fulfill my commitment even though I could have said I needed to create “social distance.”

Here’s an epiphany: “Headstone restoration is not cleaning the headstones with a cleaning solution and elbow great. Oh no – it is placing braces on them, then manipulating them to loosen the ground around them, then lifting them out of their “sockets.”

Five Minute Friday Less
This is one of the braces.

The intent is to repack the “socket” so the headstones are appropriately aligned with each other and not leaning at nonuniform angles.

Five Minute Friday Less
This is one of the sockets. The goal was 20″ deep x 15″ long x 8″ wide.

Justin (last name unknown) from the National Cemetery in Tallahassee was there to oversee the process. He’s the foreman at the cemetery and has been overseeing national cemetery work for 12 years.

Five Minute Friday Less
Justin demonstrating how to reseat a headstone.

I was in awe of his knowledge about the process and his attention to detail.

Once he worked with us to get the first stone in the row at the right height and alignment, he didn’t go to the next one (or have us go to the next one). He went to the last one in the row and got it perfect. It was the “keystone,” he said, and he arranged two strings, one at the bottom and one at the top, to run down the entire line of headstones so we would know how to put all the headstones between the first and the last in place.

*end of five minutes*

There was a lesson in that, it seemed. The lesson appeared to be “look down the road to where you want to end up, and draw a line back from that to your starting place. Otherwise, you could end up out of line.

It was detailed and the work itself was quite physical, but our veterans deserve no less.

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Our instructions, via creator Kate Motaung: “Write for five minutes on the word of the week. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.” (But I can’t resist spell checking, as you can imagine.) 

Five Minute Friday Less