About Paula Kiger

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

My Parenting Playlist: The Vinyl Edition

This post is made possible by support from the Center for Parent and Teen Communication. All opinions are my own.

Vinyl records, which were a big part of my childhood, are “in” again (go figure). The experience of listening to music on a record player was so different from our digital listening routines these days.

Transitions between songs are quieter with digital over vinyl. We can control things remotely (no walking across the room to pick up an actual needle and move it!). We can change the order of songs.

Real life (and real parenthood) are a little clunkier than digital. They’re more like vinyl — transitions are rougher and it takes more work to play the whole record.

Since my kids are 19 and 22, I feel like I’m on the last song of the LP record. Pretty soon, the album is going to be at its end, circling around without making any further sounds, waiting for me to move on.

Enough nostalgia for the 70s … let’s drop the needle and get started on a parenting playlist, with some help for the Center for Parent and Teen Communication.

Track 1: Life’s about more than grades

How do you know if your teen is happy? That’s one of the challenges of parenting teens. The way they express their emotions, their words, the “self” they present through social media (and in real life) are designed to present a carefully curated picture. Grades don’t define a teen, this author says. So true. My son was not one to worry about grades in high school As a former valedictorian, I didn’t get that. I worried he would not be a success as an adult. At 19, he has a certificate in automotive collision and works full-time, happily.

Track 2: Questions are OK

Teens want the answer to “who am I?” says this author (and they probably want to know it yesterday or at least NOW). But teenagers are changing so rapidly (I’m betting you, as an adult, don’t have some of your life choices pinned down). Some teenagers are also grappling with their sexual identity and may not be sure you will be accepting if they are unsure of their gender identity. Develop yourself a nice poker face and be prepared for unexpected questions. Our kids need a safe place to ask.

Track 3: Keep Your Cool

Well, isn’t THIS an easy one to advise you on now that we are empty nesters? Our house is so calm, with all the screaming and chaos behind us. “How you feel links to how you think,” says this author, and it’s so true! The best thing you can do for yourself to get through the challenge of parenting teens is to get your thoughts centered (because everything else will be conspiring to throw you off). Get a therapist or at least an objective friend. Equilibrium often seems out of grasp when parenting teenagers, but actively seek it, for your own sake. It’s especially hard when (imagine the needle in the groove between two songs now) …

…You can’t stop failure from happening!

That’s the point of Track 4: Failure’s gonna happen, and it’s not going to feel good for either of you

I call myself (now) a “recovering helicopter parent,” but I’m not proud of the micromanaging I did during my kids’ childhoods. I wanted my daughter to get the part in the play and my son to win the soap box derby. Newsflash — you don’t always win. Sometimes you didn’t put the work in. Other times the judges just want something else. That’s life, right? It’s the best (and only) laboratory for the rest of life that I know. Shield from from failure now, and it’s going to be more jarring when they inevitably stumble later.

Track 5: You can get through dinner without your phone

This snack encourages family dinners and family time. I have to admit I have not been a perfect role model about this, and I will pay the price, as will family ties. Stress management is a family affair, says this piece. It’s true, and trust me your teenager isn’t going to be the one setting it up.

Track 6: Hero to hypocrite

“Mom or Dad can be called a hero one minute and a hypocrite in the next breath,” says this author. OH YES. The things teens say may change rapidly within a matter of minutes. We parents may wonder what they meant the most. Ultimately, they’re still watching you. Be the adult they need, even if they won’t acknowledge it.

Track 7: Integrity is Key

Earlier this month, we all looked on in shock as the news broke that celebrities many of us admired had gone to expensive, unethical, and outlandish lengths to get their kids into prestigious schools. They used an intermediary to bypass the hard stuff: interviews, GREs, tryouts, the heartbreak of rejection letters. Even if you do everything else wrong. Even if this LP record was just a single, the “song” that would matter most is written here: INTEGRITY IS KEY.

My Parenting Playlist

My children both happened to be home at the same time recently (this is rare, because they live different places and just don’t make it home much). I was in my home office at the other side of the house. I heard them talking to each other … like real bona fide civil adults!

This was a moment I wasn’t sure — in the haze of juggling two children with very different personalities and takes on the world — I would ever see (hear, I guess).
The other thing about vinyl records is that you could turn them over and listen to a whole different set of things on the other side.

If you were to be designing the other side of my “Mom’s Album,” which of these “snacks” would be your tracks? Drop a note in the comment and let me know which one gets you thinking the most! (There are 18 more to choose from here.)

Look at the Center for Parent and Teen Communication as your “record store” for all the resources you need to figure out how to navigate the challenges (and joys — I promise there are some!) of life with teens.

Find them on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

Five Minute Friday: PLACE

Five Minute Friday Place

Five Minute Friday: PLACE

Give the prompt of “place,” and I’m going to write about New York City.

I have always said (and believed) that I could be happy anywhere geographically. I still consider that the truth, but no locality makes my heart sing like NYC does.

I pondered that during my last visit (in January).

I felt an anxiety I haven’t usually felt as the trip approached. What if I had lost my street smarts (such as they are)? What if something basic had changed (like the time the public transit system had switched from tokens to swipe cards and I had to stand there at the machines, like a new arrival in a foreign country, clueless)? What if I got mugged? What if the decent streak that began in 1989 of essentially getting through city life unscathed, both when I lived there through 1992 and during all the visits since, ended?

Once I was settled in my AirBNB, though, being in NYC was like putting on my oldest, softest, most soothing garment.

Five Minute Friday Place

The view from Brooklyn

It’s easy to say when I know I get to come home to the relative ease (and lower expense) of living in Tallahassee, but I love (usually!) having to figure things out. Also, it’s a whole lot easier to navigate mass transit now that we have little tiny navigators in our hands through our smartphones.

The city has gotten less gritty, more gentrified, a new degree of “homogeneous” since 1989.

Still, it offers up new discoveries every time I arrive, as much about who I am as about what it has to offer.

Five Minute Friday Place

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.)

How 7 SmartBrief stories inspired me to do more

I read many news articles every day due to my work. I can either let them influence me to do things more often or persuade me to cut down. Looking over the most thought-provoking SmartBrief stories I encountered in February, I’m going for “more often” rather than “cutting down.”

I can:

Be open to disposing of outdated ideas and considering a new, more inclusive perspective

In the International City/County Management Association SmartBrief, there was a story about how Sandusky, Ohio, had chosen to end Columbus Day in favor of making Election Day a paid holiday.

Columbus Day was never all that big of a deal here in Florida. I don’t think I ever had it off (but I think the kids’ schools scheduled teacher planning days on Columbus Day). There’s a bigger question here, though, of how we as a society treat a day that many places have renamed “Indigenous People’s Day” and how much effort we expend to give people an opportunity to vote. In the long run, I think voting wins. 

Refuse to rule out the power of the tiniest clues

In the Sigma Xi Society SmartBrief, there was a story about unusual coyotes in Texas that, as it turns out, have DNA from extinct red wolves. The article discussed how the researcher who has been collecting genetic data on wolves and coyotes in North America prefers tissue samples over photographs when people ask for her help in identifying “wolflike animals.” In the case of the unusual coyotes in Texas, though, a biologist on Galveston Island, Texas, lost the tissue samples of one of the animals who was killed by a car, so couldn’t send them to the researcher.

Here’s how she got the information she needed: “He later lost one of the samples, but was able to send the scalpel he’d used on the animal’s carcass instead.” (Lo and behold, the “unusual coyotes” may possibly share DNA with the extinct red wolves.)

Who keeps their scalpels lying around without cleaning them? It paid off big-time here, but the survival of this woman’s research (at least in this instance) was hanging on the chance that a fellow scientist didn’t clean his scalpel right away. Hmmm.

Trust the evidence: Hope is real!

In the National Association of Social Workers SmartBrief, we discussed Professor Chan Hellman’s assertion that hope is evidence-based. “Hope scores are significant predictors of average daily attainment and GPA,” he said.

I especially loved this quote from the article: “Hope is a social gift. It’s not something that takes place in isolation within you, it’s something that we share.” I’m not even sure what it means, but “hope is a social gift” seems like a gift worth giving.

February 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

Always demonstrate a spirit of collaboration

I learned through the BoardSource SmartBrief that Henry Timms is leaving the 92nd Street Y to become the Lincoln Center president.

I have always heard great things about Henry Timms, and I know he has made a big difference for the 92nd Street Y. I wish I could go to the city more often and do more things there. I did get to go to the Social Good Summit there in 2015, which was a thrill.

February 2019 SmartBrief Wrapup

At the 92nd Street Y for the Social Good Summit. Probably the closest I will ever be to Victoria Beckham in my life!

The Lincoln Center board chair, in discussing the challenges Timms has faced in the past, said, “His temperament is one of collaboration; he seems to have a low ego need.” I think this type of collaboration and a “low ego need” probably serve people well. 

Speak up to end debilitating practices

In the UN Wire SmartBrief, we shared the observation of the International Day of Zero Tolerance For Female Genital Mutilation.

The practice of FGM has affected around 200 million women and girls, and the UN wants it gone by 2030. I do too, and I can do more to help bring about an end to this barbaric practice.

Be a proponent of metrics over anecdotal evidence

I have learned so much about first responders and the issues they face from the National Emergency Number Association SmartBrief. Consolidation of public safety centers is a common theme (ours here in Tallahassee has had its ups and downs since its creation in 2013), and this article explained how to make consolidations as smooth as possible.

The part of this article that most stuck out to me was “our memory does not provide an honest assessment.” It was written to explain how people who have begun working in a consolidated situation don’t always accurately remember how things worked prior to consolidation. The point was the need for an honest assessment and the development of realistic metrics. This is true beyond the emergency management world. 

Help remove mental health stigma, especially for the military and veterans

In the Reserve Officer Association SmartBrief, one of the stories discussed reports of death by suicide of 11 Air Force airmen and four civilian workers in January. “We need an Air Force culture where it is more common to seek help than to try to go at it alone,” said Air Force leaders.

I wish I didn’t even have to say this, but we have to figure out a way in this country to destigmatize mental illness. This is especially true for people in the military and veterans. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has resources for Veterans and Active Duty. Team Red White & Blue also works with active-duty military and veterans for a variety of needs. Make a donation, volunteer in some way, be there for a friend who is active duty or a veteran. 


That’s my list of seven but I have a bonus.

I filled in for a colleague editing the SmartBrief on Entrepreneurs newsletter for a bit, and I read How these three women faced their fears to pursue their dreams. I could have put it in a relatively generic category of “motivational pieces about women who are entrepreneurs.” Something one of the women said, though, left me wondering why it has to be that way:

“I’m scared all the time.”

In fairness to her, it doesn’t sound quite so stark when considered in the context of the rest of her advice: “Don’t be ashamed of being scared; cultivate belief in yourself. Today, it’s possible to learn almost anything online. ‘I’m scared all the time. Just do the thing you know you need to do anyway,’ she says.”

I’m past the point in my life where being “scared all the time” makes sense for me. There’s a difference between the relatively healthy uncertainty that comes with embarking on a new effort and being in a constant state of fear. I hope it works out for her, but I don’t plan to follow that path.

Balancing fear and confidence

There are things we can do to find equilibrium between assurance and anxiety. As these seven stories show, finding that balance may lie in embracing the things we can do more of rather than living a life of scratching things off the list.

February 2019 SmartBrief Wrapup

Openings at SmartBrief

When I share my wrap-ups of favorite SmartBrief stories, I also include our open positions. I wrote in more detail about my experience here.

Here are our currently advertised open positions (they’re all located in Washington, D.C.):

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer or email me so we can discuss further.

To Recap

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 on FacebookSmartBrief TwitterLeadership SmartBrief TwitterLinkedIn and SmartBrief Instagram and Life at SmartBrief Instagram. (There’s also a SmartBrief feature at The Muse.)

Thanks for reading, and I hope (in an evidence-based kind of way!) to play a part in keeping you informed long into the future!

February 2019 Smartbrief Wrapup

This post is a response to the Kat Bouska prompt “7 things to do more often.”

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

**Also — I know there’s something odd going on with the spacing on my post(s). I see those extra spaces and plan to eradicate them … as soon as I figure out how!

Five Minute Friday: MORE

Five Minute Friday More

Five Minute Friday: MORE

We had a tiny earthquake here in North Florida Wednesday. If I hadn’t heard about it, I certainly wouldn’t have felt it.

When I went to look into the tiny earthquake a bit more, I found more data than I could ever possibly need to know: its intensity, activity by ZIP code (what’s going to happen when the postal service goes away and we don’t rely on ZIP codes anymore? … separate question I guess!), intensity vs distance, responses vs time and DYFI responses (whatever those are).

There are times I’m not sure whether to be glad our government collects more information than we need or dismayed at the expenditure of resources for data we are likely to never need.

Then again, this story about how scientists made little tiny components of minuscule zebrafish brains fluorescent so they could then figure out if the brains function differently when the zebrafish are asleep instead of awake (and how do you tell that a zebrafish is asleep anyway?) made a ton of sense to me. I was glad somebody tapped on the glass at scientifically regulated intervals to keep zebrafish awake to prove something that we probably all know is true: our bodies need sleep so our DNA can repair itself, which happens more effectively during periods of sleep.

*** end of five minutes ***

I’ve always been curious about how the seemingly inconsequential things in life reach the tipping point that make them the big things. Does a 2.7 earthquake a few hours away from me make any difference to my life? No.

Did that same earthquake set off some really strange chain reaction? A pebble that tumbled into a body of water that created a ripple that somehow grew into a flood?

By the same token, do we say or do things that seem minor to us but either encourage someone in a way we don’t know about OR cause unintended pain?

Maybe, like the zebrafish, I need to sleep on it. Don’t tap on my glass, OK?

Five Minute Friday More

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.)

Safety Is the Deepest Gift of All

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper got two standing ovations for their performance of “Shallow” at the Academy Awards. One immediately followed the performance, and another occurred as they returned to their seats.

Those standing ovations were well-deserved. The performance was momentous.

It was the intimate, compelling nature of the performance that led some people to theorize that the chemistry displayed by the two was more than an act.

It has been a week since the performance, and my earworm of “Shallow” has not dissipated (it doesn’t help that I finally saw the movie last night…).

Not only was a star born, but the hashtag #BraGa was born.

Safety is the Deepest Gift

I didn’t take away the idea that the two of them are going to be romantically linked in the future. I saw something else.

Ed. Note: I used to have the video of the performance embedded here, but the version I chose is no longer available. You can watch it through this link.

I saw the safety in quietly believing in each other

When Wayne and I were watching the show, I remember thinking “this may be going downhill” when Bradley Cooper’s voice hit a hitch at the 0:57 point. Gaga just stood there, believing in him. A few seconds later, she almost imperceptibly nods at him.

As the world can attest, everything got better from that point on.

It made me think of all the years I sat on the sidelines at a gym mom, watching young gymnasts learn the tiniest of skills that were intended to lead to the big breakthroughs.

As a parent, I was more inclined to push my kids than to give them the time to work through those repetitive practices and difficult times (sorry, kids!). I watched coaches stand by balance beams, seeing gymnasts execute drill after drill, day after day, with relatively impassive looks on their faces. But I also watched them erupt with pride when one of the gymnasts reached that breakthrough or succeeded at a meet. They believed.

Don’t we all need someone in our lives who quietly believes in us, who gives us the imperceptible positive nod instead of asking “why don’t you try this?” or advice such as “you are the one holding your own self back”?

I saw safety in making space for each other

At around the 3:20 mark in the video, as Bradley Cooper walks around the piano to sit down with Lady Gaga, she moves to her right imperceptibly and doesn’t miss a beat in playing the piano or singing.

Obviously there had been plenty of rehearsal for this moment and it wasn’t by chance … Bradley Cooper didn’t just “show up” there at the piano bench. Yet … the image spoke to me. She accommodated him and trusted that she could keep singing and playing, knowing that the two of them were committed to the success of the moment.

Speaking of safety

One of the things I do at SmartBrief is to co-manage the SBLeaders Twitter account. As any enterprising Twitter user knows, there’s nothing like a popular story to give you an opportunity to breathe life into a good post. I wanted to tweet about the post Lessons from Bradley Cooper in empowering people. I had some favorite passages and wanted to include one in a graphic.

Even though much of the piece was about Cooper’s generosity in giving credit where credit was due, there was also a strong thread about how performers, including Dave Chappelle, felt safe as part of the project.

Safety is the Deepest GiftDiscerning the shallow from the deep

Ed. Note: Tallahassee (and specifically our neighborhood) has been under a tornado warning for the past hour and the power is out. I’m running on battery for the computer and hotspot for the phone, so I’m deviating a bit from the plan (which involved lots more meticulous combing of the internet for links related to my points). Here goes a free write about what I think, because I never miss a Sunday posting and I’m not going to let some bad weather keep me from being consistent! I hope it all gels, because this passage is pretty fundamental to my view of things, and I hope it’s a perspective that inspires thought among some of you.

I loved everything about that performance. I wish I had the musical and acting chops (and the general audience-pleasing aesthetic) to do the same. I love performing, and I have such incredible respect for what Cooper and Gaga did up there.

About the chemistry they shared, though, I am more of a long view person about chemistry. There have been people in my life with whom I felt a that magic, and choosing to walk away from the temptation of that intensity was difficult. I have had two different therapists who, when I described some of the history of how I came to be in my marriage, implied that I should have felt something more, something more fiery, something that the “audience” watching us on life’s stage would stand up and applaud. Not that chemistry is overrated, but it’s part of a bigger equation.

The entire job of actors is to make us believe (which Cooper and Gaga most definitely did, if you ask me). Anyone who knows me well knows how firmly I believe that deep friendships between men and women are absolutely a good thing.

Fate will laugh at me if the headlines tomorrow, next month, or next year blare, “Cooper and Gaga confirm they’re a romantic couple.” But I will be surprised.

I think, instead, they embarked on a joint endeavor that involved believing in each other, making space for each other, and trusting the safety that had grown between them.

Then they sang about it.

They are, as the song says, far from the shallow. But … the way they went about it served less as a weight that would eventually pull them both down and more as a pair of life preservers.

Five Minute Friday: SEARCH

Five Minute Friday Search

Five Minute Friday: SEARCH

One of the my first tasks when I began freelancing at SmartBrief involved searching for stories for various topics. Some subjects required more creativity than others to find things that other people would be likely to want to read.

My responsibilities now are different from what they were then, and searching for stories to share isn’t the main thing I do, but …

… it is easier to help other people learn how to search, having done it myself. 

This principle, of course, applies to many things we have to teach others to do in life. To take a small aside, I worked for Healthy Kids for a very long time. At first, the program was only in one county in Florida (Volusia), and our call center was in a different county. Over time, the program became a model for the federally funded State Child Health Insurance Program, and was available to families statewide.

***end of five minutes ***

For a few years, our contact center was in Illinois. Eventually, the contract was changed to stipulate that the contact center had to be in Florida.

Why does that matter to this story?

It matters because I was sitting there in the Florida contact center one day, observing a representative. She was talking to a family and demonstrating exceptional empathy. When she hung up, she said, “my kids were on this program, so I understand exactly what types of questions the callers have.”

I realize that’s a little bit of a leap from “it’s easier to teach someone to look for stories about crop insurance because I did it too” to “it’s better for someone at a contact center to have personal experience with the many challenges underinsured parents in Florida have en route to getting their child affordable health care.”

It is, though, a bit similar. If you’ve been there yourself, the search to have it all make sense is a bit less daunting.

Five Minute Friday Just

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.)

Guest Post: Being Your Own Medical Advocate

I am thrilled to welcome my friend Hannah Vaughn Setzer as a guest blogger today. We haven’t known each other long, but almost as soon as we met, we knew we had many things in common: love of social media, interest in fitness, and a desire to help people understand challenges people face in navigating the world of health care. Thank you, Hannah, I hope you’ll share more with us in the future.

Being Your Own Medical Advocate

This is a tough one. I’m not a parent. I believe with my whole heart that my parents and doctors made the best decisions they could at the time with the information they knew when I was growing up. Were some of those decisions not successful? Yes. Did some inflict more pain and hardship upon me? Yes. Am I resentful or angered by that? No.

I imagine it is the hardest thing on earth to see your child, or parent if you’re an adult caregiver, in pain and suffering and have to make decisions that medical professionals are presenting you. I’m in the in-between stage. I’m a fully functioning adult who gets to be my own medical advocate (while still calling my mama to help me remember facts or process things) for the first real time in my life. This is liberating and also can be scary. 

Several years ago I took my health into my own hands in the biggest way I probably ever will. Up until age 23 I was on canned, genetically made, pre-packaged formula for people with feeding tubes or other medical needs. Doctors advised my parents to put me on this from a very young age and admittedly it kept me alive. I was able to function and go to public school and participate in activities and camps and be social. It also made me incredibly sick often. We didn’t know it was the cause but it was certainly a catalyst for many infections and illnesses I had for my first 23 years. 

With the encouragement of some friends, when I was 23 I went off the formula. I started blending my own foods and trying to eat healthier real foods. It was a steep learning curve. My parents were not happy. I lost a lot of weight at a very rapid pace until we figured out a blended diet that worked for me to sustain my body. Five years later I am healthier than I’ve ever been, I eat real food, and instead of getting sick monthly I’ve been sick four times in those five years. 

While I don’t get sick often anymore, it is still very difficult when I do get sick. Medical students don’t study people like me in medical school. Your run-of-the-mill family doctor doesn’t know what to do with me when I am sick. I have to be my own advocate and tell them what is wrong, and tell them the treatment solution. I know my body well enough after 28 years to know what works and doesn’t work. I know exactly how it feels when I get an infection. I know what antibiotics are successful and which aren’t. I’m no longer a child. It’s no longer a guessing game. The scary part is over. My parents and doctors did all the hard work of diagnosing and figuring out what works best and now that I’m the advocate I just have to relay the message. 

Being a self-advocate doesn’t only apply to medical situations. I have to advocate for myself in new work environments. All throughout school my parents and I had to advocate for me. This world wasn’t built for people with disabilities or medical conditions, therefore the advocating never stops. I’m a Disability Rights Advocate and I teach people every day how to advocate for themselves. This ranges from parking lot access, asserting their rights to an interpreter, getting a driver’s license, and accessing their own middle school building.

It can be exhausting to have to fight every day for basic access and rights that the rest of the world is afforded, but the alternative is a life that may be sorely lacking in basic human necessities. Every time we advocate and educate new people and providers we aren’t just helping ourselves we are helping everyone, those behind and ahead of us to change the world. It can seem overwhelming and exhausting and pointless, but I’m here to promise you that it is not.

Keep fighting the good fight! 

Being Your Own Medical Advocate

A Note from Paula

I love the fact that the picture Hannah sent includes a print that says, “We can do hard things.” I first learned about Hannah and Feeding Tube Fitness when she went to visit my November 28 birthday-mate Lydia in the hospital. Lydia currently has a feeding tube (learn more about her/share support at her Facebook page or her GoFundMe), and Hannah wrote this in the Instagram caption:

I want her to grow up in a world where she sees and knows people like her who are pursuing all their dreams, kicking butt and taking names. I want her to know that she can do anything she wants in life, I want her to see athletes, models, and girls like her running the dang world.

Hannah and I ended up at the topic of medical advocacy for a variety of reasons. She has had her own road to take regarding learning to advocate for herself. Lydia’s parents have had a crash course in communicating Lydia’s needs to her medical professionals. I struggled to figure out what would help my mom (when quite a few things seemed to be geared toward the hospital’s expediency) during her final illness and to be assertive enough to make sure my father-in-law’s well-being was taken care of during his final years, not to mention my own adventures in electrophysiology.

If there’s one thing I know, it’s that medical advocacy (for ourselves and for those we love) is a “hard thing.” Thank you, Hannah, for sharing your story. It gives us all emotional ammunition for that “good fight.”

Find Hannah on Instagram at Feeding Tube Fitness and on Facebook, also at Feeding Tube Fitness!

Five Minute Friday: JUST

Five Minute Friday Just

Five Minute Friday: JUST

This is what came to mind when I read today’s prompt: the number of times (I’ve lost count…) that I have heard someone who is praying publicly use “just” frequently throughout their prayer.

That’s probably not what was intended by this prompt (I think it was supposed to be more about justice), but it’s what kept niggling at my brain. Once I became an Episcopalian, after quite a long time of being Southern Baptist, the incidents of “just” pretty much disappeared. I think this had to do with the adherence to a prayer book.

However, I’m an ecumenical enough person that I worship in many different environments, so I am still struck by a “just-filled” prayer occasionally.

Now, the only One a prayer style matters to is God. I shouldn’t care!

It’s more of an observation. It’s an observation made by Robert Sang also, in 5 reasons to eliminate the word “just” from your prayers.

And it’s a big enough thing that, apparently, an app was created to administer an electrical shock every time someone used the word “just” while praying. OUCH! (I can’t find the app in the app store; maybe it just went away. 😉

Whatever the case … I think the reason it even catches my attention at all comes from two reasons.

***end of five minutes***

The first is Toastmasters. The “repetitive ‘just'” habit irritated me before I got involved in Toastmasters, but once you are trained regarding the way filler words detract from your message, and once you are in the position to evaluate others on their speeches (because they want to be evaluated), it’s even more difficult to ignore all the justs!

The second is a bit of a dichotomy. While I know God doesn’t care how we deliver our message … and God knows our every need anyway, I also know God wants us to be direct and confident about asking for guidance and good outcomes for those we love.

As Robert Sang said (referring to a specific scripture passage), Jesus used “just” to mean “in the same way as you are in me and I am in you.” Sang goes on to remind us, “It is not a mitigation.”

I’ve done my share of not being clear about what I want (and need) over my lifetime. Of all places where I should feel free to be specific and mitigation-free, prayer seems to be that place.

Five Minute Friday Just

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.)

Writing Creates Knowing: Inspiration from Patrice Gopo

Does the word “essay” immediately take your mind back to the pressure of writing the perfect admissions essay as part of a college application or give you flashbacks to pressure-filled language arts exercises in high school or college? If so, spend a half hour listening to Patrice Gopo talk about her journey toward being an essayist, and you may associate personal essays with a more positive idea.

Note: I chose to watch the profile of Patrice as I was seeking a blogging topic for today. The profile is part of the Flourish Writers Conference a free online gathering of “authors … as they share personal insights into the challenges and victories faced by every writer.” 

After perusing the videos available as part of the conference, I decided to watch and reflect on Patrice’s, due to this three-word description in a summary of the video in the email introduction: “writing creates knowing.”

Here are my takeaways:

Chance plays a role in our destinies

Patrice is not a writer by training; she is a chemical engineer with graduate credentials in public policy. Had she not moved to Cape Town, South Africa, after marrying her husband, and found herself unable to do her usual work because she lacked a work permit, she may not have begun this type of writing. Maybe it wasn’t chance that led her to that place and the choice to write, but something more serendipitous.

A reminder to keep trying

Patrice explained that the word “essay” has its roots in the concept of “to try.” The Online Etymology Dictionary says it comes from the Latin “exigere” (“drive out; require, exact; examine, try, test”). I like the idea that a personal essay is less a finality than it is a query.

Patrice discusses one of her goals: to “demystify.” This is something I aim to do with my blog. In my mind (and in my experience), demystifying things we don’t understand dilutes the fear surrounding them. If an explanation, accompanied by putting a human face on a problem, can make a difference for the better, I have done what I set out to do.

Encouragement to be kind to ourselves (yet tenacious simultaneously)

One topic Patrice addressed is whether there are certain boxes that must be checked off for someone to call themselves a writer. Do they have to be published? Do they have to get paid for their writing? When is a writer “a writer”?

You don’t have to be published to be a writer, Patrice contends. I agree. I would argue there are snippets of excellent writing in some of my friends’ Facebook comments, run-of-the-mill emails and other exchanges that say “I am a writer” about that person even if the words never make a formal publication.

One of the interesting parts of the discussion was regarding the role of writing classes, coaches and conferences. Patrice says finding a balance between “learning more about writing” and doing the writing itself is an individual thing. However, she says some of us get so wrapped up in the “how” of writing that we never put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were).

It is easy to conclude that our time has passed us by as writers, that we are too old, too inexperienced, too [insert factor hindering progress here] to succeed. I liked the example facilitator Mindy Kiker used of William Zinsser, whose On Writing Well was published when Zinsser was in his 50s. “Zinsser said he didn’t really find his voice until he wrote that book in his early 50s,” said Mindy.

Although the Ken Follett example I think of frequently isn’t solely about age, it is about defying expectations of others. He had become a bestselling spy novelist by the time he discussed Pillars of the Earth with his agent. This is what he said:

My publishers were nervous. They wanted another spy story. My friends were also apprehensive. They know that I enjoy success. I’m not the kind of writer who would deal with a failure by saying that the book was good but the readers were inadequate. I write to entertain, and I’m happy doing so. A failure would make me miserable. No one tried to talk me out of it, but lots of people expressed anxious reservations.

If you feel that you are too old, to connected to a particular genre, too undeveloped as a writer, keep going. And, Patrice urges, enjoy the journey.

To learn more about Patrice

Patrice’s website: patricegopo.com

Patrice’s book, which “examines the complexities of identity in our turbulent yet hopeful time of intersecting heritages”: All the Colors We Will See

patrice gopo

A favorite line I selected while perusing one of Patrice’s essays: “When the brain decides to forget, to carve out gaps in memory, why does it leave the hands idle?”

Keep up with all things Patrice by subscribing to her newsletter. (I did, and I RARELY subscribe to anything these days, given the high volume of my email inbox.)

And as a side note, learn more about the Flourish Conference here.

In closing

My half hour with Patrice (and Mindy) was time well spent. I agree that “writing creates knowing.” For me, sometimes the “knowing” has more to do with the additional clarity the process of writing brings to me personally. Other times, it is my hope my writing helps others have a wider perspective about a contentious or misunderstood topic.

If you have felt the pull to write, but haven’t found your way around the obstacles that have arisen, there’s no better time than now to “create knowing.”

Patrice Gopo


Five Minute Friday: CONFIDENT

Five Minute Friday Confident

Five Minute Friday: CONFIDENT

I laughed when I saw that this week’s word is “confident.”

I’ve written about confidence before.

You know what breeds confidence? Situations where you prove to yourself that you are capable of creating, helping others and producing something that you walk away from with more celebrations than questions.

I had a story last week as editor of the Sigma Xi Science Honorary newsletter that had a line I loved. It was:

“I sort of stood up from my desk and paced the hallways a little bit.”

The scientist had already made one relatively big discovery (of a meteor impact crater far below the ice in Greenland). As he was looking for another, he found one much more quickly than he thought he would.

Commence with the hallway pacing!

Here’s the thing. You don’t get to that moment of being so excited you literally can’t sit still without putting in all the hard work ahead of time (unless you just happen to be randomly, serendipitously blessed).

How many hours had that scientist spent hunched over his desk? Searching for evidence of craters a mile below the ice with no results? How many years before that involved hours of studying, fighting for research dollars, doing all the things academics have to do to get their place at the table?

***end of five minutes***

Sometimes, situations that should breed more confidence in me lead to more worry (how can I replicate that? was it really good enough? was that a fluke?). However, I have had a few instances lately that felt the right kind of good.

Someone I had been working with to help them learn a skill at our workplace “got it.” They were the one who did the hard work, but I chose to try to teach them instead of correcting their work myself repeatedly, something that would have resulted in a decent product but wouldn’t have helped them feel any more confident about their ability to contribute.

Knowing you’ve helped someone else feel better about their work IS something worth hallway pacing! It’s also easier than finding a meteor impact crater a mile below the  Greenland ice. And warmer.

Five Minute Friday Deep

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.)