GATHER (FMF31 2019 Day 8)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: GATHER

This word brings up memories of hymns from my childhood.

Shall we gather at the river?

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing…

I have been particularly remiss in the “gathering” part of my faith walk lately.

While I do “get” the fact that it can be worshipful to be alone at a sunrise, communing with your higher power or on a mountaintop (OK, I don’t personally KNOW about the mountaintop part) reveling in the majesty of nature, I also believe it’s important to gather with others to worship.

I’ve always said worship is the one hour out of my week that I take to make myself sit down and think about others, while reflecting on how I am living out my faith as I see it.

I often hear people say (with good reason) “but organized religion has gotten so hypocritical.” And it’s true. No congregation I am going to walk into will be populated by people who demonstrate their beliefs flawlessly 100% of the time. Likewise, I present myself to them (and God) just as I am (I know — another hymn reference ha ha), willing to see how I could have behaved differently and learn how to be better to my fellow human beings in the week ahead.

I used to sit in the back of the church, there “just for the worship.” Once I had kids, by nature of children being more gregarious than I am, I had to mix with people when I gathered.

Turns out maybe God had something in mind when he gave me two outgoing children.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

SAME (FMF31 2019 Day 7)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: SAME

I know this sounds ticky, but … where have all the words gone?

I have gotten into this habit, so I am pointing the finger at myself as much as anyone else, but we are definitely embracing word shortcuts more than ever.

Maybe it’s social media; maybe we’re just all busy. Maybe I should practice what I preach and remind myself that “language evolves.”

When I agree with someone else, whether it is in writing a response on Facebook or chatting in person, I am just as likely to say “SAME” as I am to say, “I agree with you” or “I feel the same way.”

Hashtags strike me this way also. I know we only have a limited amount of characters to play with on Twitter (it used to be 140 in the old days; now it’s 280). We may tweet, “I ran 4 miles today. #Exhausted” when we mean, “I ran 4 miles today. I am exhausted now and plan to eat pancakes.”

Hashtags do away with all kinds of parts of speech. Goodbye subject, verb, conjunctions and more. #Exhausted.

Everyone gets the point (usually), and time is saved along with keystrokes.

But the use of hashtags and the omission of everything but the most sparse expressions leave me yearning for a sentence diagram or two.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

NOTICE (FMF31 2019 Day 6)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: NOTICE

My daughter is 23. I still think frequently about a daycare I went to when I was trying to decide on childcare options for her.

Each time one of the workers would step away from her class (to go to the restroom, attend to some issue, or whatever), she would look at one of her fellow teachers and say, “notice them for me.” (It was sort of an open layout, so her students were in the line of sight of the other teacher.)

This occurred several times during a relatively short visit.

I know “notice them” was really just a particular way this teacher had of asking her fellow teachers to take over the responsibility for making sure her kids were safe when she walked away, but the word lover in me bristled.

There are times in our lives when we “notice” something that we should do so much more. We should speak up. We should ask what is happening. We should see past the images, sounds and general emotion of the space to find out if there is a bigger issue.

We should act.

There’s a video used in a lot of trainings that depicts kids playing basketball. When played again, the trainer points out the gorilla that walked through the scene, that inevitably very few first-time watchers saw.

The point is to be observant, to not be distracted by a flurry of activity, to attune ourselves to seeing more.

If we do that, we may notice more areas where we can help a fellow human or learn something more about ourselves.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

OTHER (FMF31 2019 Day 5)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: OTHER

Oh the places volunteering to write (and loving to write) will take you.

I have always loved live theater. All of it. Always. I wasn’t, however, a traditional “theater kid.” I don’t have much acting experience besides being Rudolph in a high school Christmas play, taking a few months’ worth of acting lessons from the wonderful Naomi Rose-Mock and being an extra in FSU Film Productions.

Yet, when Broadway World was looking for Tallahassee reviewers, I volunteered. Eventually, I got on the list for being a community reviewer for the Tallahassee Democrat when their structure changed to allow a group of community reviewers rather than a staff reviewer.

That’s what found me at a rehearsal of a local production of “Godspell,” preparing to write a review for the Democrat.

I watched the scene based on Matthew 38:39: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

I have now seen that part of the play twice (because I went back as a paying audience member to see the production in its final form).

Is it bad that I struggled to comprehend this play? (I mean, as a reviewer yes it is!) Something like “turn the other cheek” is such a basic part of the faith upbringing I grew up with, but having it occur right smack in the middle of a melange of beatitudes, parables, soft shoe dance and other theatrical activity was somehow disorienting.

Maybe that’s how it is most like life, though. The opportunities when we are called upon to turn the other cheek don’t come with advance notice (“heads up — you’re going to be confronted and want to fight back”).

Rather, these moments in our lives require us to have a plan in advance for how we will deal with provocation. We can’t expect to be our best if we haven’t mentally prepared and practiced.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

LISTEN (FMF31 2019 Day 4)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: LISTEN

“Listen, you need to think about that decision really hard.”

There’s a figure of speech where we use “listen” in that way. It’s the first word of the sentence, a direction, a command. It’s the kind of thing we say when we are positive the other person should see things our way.

Consider a situation after a public hazard caused an accident.

“Listen, that intersection has been a problem for years. The police department documented a 50% higher rate of accidents there. Obviously there would be a fatality sooner or later.”

This is a situation where a word has evolved to mean something else than is intended (in my opinion). We want the person’s attention. While we do want them to listen, it’s more for informational purposes (and to reinforce the fact that we are right).

True listening, at least the way I see it, is an act that requires discipline, compassion and patience.

Also, in this world of electronic communication, that discipline, compassion and patience need to extend to our screens and keyboards.

Truly taking the time to let someone lay out their concerns and challenges and fears is a rare gift we should give one another more often. As I learned in years of telephone counseling, it also requires opening our mouths at points in the conversation to help things along by asking open-ended questions that will elicit more than a “yes” or “no.”

Listen, being available for someone else is as good for us as it is for them.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

PROBLEM (FMF31 2019 Day 3)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: PROBLEM

I believe in keeping it real, so here’s the problem I’m facing, community. It’s a problem that falls squarely on my shoulders (and my spouse’s, I guess).

Despite promising myself I wouldn’t wait until the last minute, I have, indeed, waited until (almost) the last minute to do my 2018 taxes. I sent in the six-month extension form on April 15, promising myself I would be proactive (as proactive as you can be when you’re asking for an extension) and not live through an entire summer with the prospect of getting this done dogging me.

Not to get too far into the personal weeds, but I know I am going to owe (again). Until I got my full-time job (which I love!) in September 2018, I had freelanced ever since leaving my long-time job at Healthy Kids back in May 2014. Never once in that whole period did I sufficiently pay my self-employment taxes. Many of those years, I took premature withdrawals from my 401(K) because of the nature of our lives (my lesser income due to freelancing, two kids in college, life), which made the problem worse.

I dread everything about it. Finding out what I owe (again). Negotiating with the IRS to amend my installment agreement (again).

This situation flies in the face of my favorite mantra, “Every problem has a solution.”

The solution, of course, would have been to lock myself in a room on April 16 and do it. Just do it.

I’m reminding myself, though, that I’m clawing myself out of the situation. Having a full-time job has made me pay Uncle Sam more consistently. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

A few hours between now and October 15 to prepare my taxes, a phone call or two then life will move on. The problem will be in my rearview mirror.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

GIFT (FMF31 2019 Day 2)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: GIFT

I *love* giving gifts. I love pretty much everything about the process. Picking just the right thing, trying to get the wrapping right (I’ll never be a professional wrapper), the anticipation of presenting the item to the recipient.

There are other types of gifts we can give that don’t require fancy bows, glossy paper, or finding the tape (why is it always missing when we need it anyway?)

I’m a bit at max capacity for new things to take on. Between work, my blogging/social media life, volunteer obligations, some help my dad needs and other obligations, my free hours are few and far between.

When an acquaintance asked me to look at some of their writing recently, I rather immediately (internally) went into “how on earth can I do one more thing?” mode. I pictured reams of manuscript such as the ones proofreading clients give me when they turn their books over to me.

I pictured all the social media advice floating around in PR circles that generally have the theme “letting someone pick your brain costs you money because it’s time you could be making money — gently tell them no.”

I stopped catastrophizing for one flat second and asked my friend if it was 400 pages or 400 words?


I can do this. So many people have given me the gift of their time to provide (unpaid) feedback on my writing.

It’s my turn. And I don’t need to find the tape to give this gift.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

WHY (FMF31 2019 Day 1)

I am participating in 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes 2019 (all of my submissions can be found here).

Today’s prompt is: WHY

The best place to start this year’s 31 days of five-minute free writes is probably why do this again? I have gotten inconsistent about participating in the Five Minute Friday linkup. It’s another thing that only takes five minutes!

The answer to “why do a 31-day commitment again?” has to do with the community and the discipline.

I love and appreciate this community (which has its roots in the Five Minute Friday group).

I remember how great I felt each of the last two years when I completed by 31 days. I had upheld a commitment I had made to myself. More important, I had gained the benefit of writing, which always enriches us (even if the writing itself is marginally acceptable.

There are many “why’s” in life, and I could spend each five-minute period this month exploring the ones that vex me most. But I am glad to look forward to prompts that may be more “hope-making” and less “vexing,” such as “gift” (tomorrow) and “enjoy” (the last day).

I am a little torn, because I have also gotten away from my exercise habit and perhaps I should be walking instead of writing. But writing is exercise in its own way. It may not be improving my cardiovascular health, but it is bringing me closer to myself and a community I appreciate.

That’s the “why” that brings me back to my keyboard this month.

31 Days of Five-Minute Free Writes

Remembering Mia

When my daughter was in middle school, her dance teachers carried far more weight with her than I — a mere mom — did. Jelina Gonzalez was one of those teachers for my daughter. Now that my own daughter teaches dance and fulfills that role for a new generation of middle schoolers, I see the legacy that evolved from how Jelina and others taught her, not just to dance, but to become a young woman.

Jelina and I have stayed in touch, even though she moved hundreds of miles away. She began teaching (her experience of teaching was an integral part of a Toastmasters speech I gave about the power of a pencil). She got married. She shared her excitement as she became pregnant and planned to be Mia Sofia’s mom, with Erik to be Mia Sofia’s dad.

Mia Sofia died in utero at eight months’ gestation on March 21.

Jelina and Erik are working to raise money for Cuddle Cots so other families in similar situations can spend more time with their babies.  

As you can see in this video, Mia Sofia is loved beyond measure. (Note: The video’s privacy settings may or may not allow you to see it.)

Why a Cuddle Cot

To honor Mia Sofia, Jelina and Erik are raising money for Cuddle Cots. A Cuddle Cot is a specially-designed cooling system that prolongs the time a family can spend with their infant. Learn more about how Cuddle Cots work by visiting this link.

Comments in italics from Erik and Jelina:

Losing a little one is tough. Bereaved families are given the opportunity to spend some time with their baby after they’re born before being transported to the morgue. Unfortunately, this time is fleeting and doesn’t allow the parents to properly bond with their little angel. That time meant everything to our family.

A CuddleCot gives the family time to bond and grieve by keeping the baby cool. We wish we had one during our time of need, but we feel that we can honor our baby girl by donating one to Wellington Regional and help other families.

If you’d like to make a donation, please send your gift via Venmo to
@MiaSofia2019. (Here’s a link, but I think you have to be on the app for it to work.) Erik and Jelina ask that you include your name and email so they can keep you updated.

One image in my head throughout this period has been the sign Erik and Jelina had prepared for Mia’s room.

In that spirit, suggestions for three ways to help this family that is so dear to us.

M … for memories. Erik and Jelina will always have memories, and they created as many as they could in the time they had with Mia. They are trying to get Cuddle Cots for the hospital where Mia was born so other families faced with the death of their infant will have time for more memories.

I … for inform. Inform people about Cuddle Cots and — beyond telling them about a particular product — help them understand why families need this time with their babies.

A … for act. When there is a loss like this, everyone wants to do something to make a difference. In this situation you can act by donating or by simply providing support if a family you know finds themselves in this situation.

Five Minute Friday: LACK

L. wants to time travel.

She talked about it in her speech at the Wakulla County Tropicana Speaking Contest I judged recently.

She lacked comfort with speaking (don’t we all?). She lacked comfort in a noticeable way. Her body language spoke of her unease. Her well-crafted words got a bit lost in the trepidation of it all … the nerves. The judges (sorry…). The audience. The other contestants.

I loved her NASA shirt (of course I did).

I loved her courage, her gumption to get herself to the contest, stand up behind the podium, speak into the microphone about her desire to time travel and meet the scientists she admires so much.

L. got honorable mention out of four contestants, with the others scoring higher and getting 3rd place, 2nd place, 1st place.

I watched her after the contest, as the contestants were assembled for post-contest pictures.

She tried to shrink into the background. She looked so uncomfortable and miserable.

But she stayed.

She stayed … and this happened (please take the time to read this brief Twitter thread from my friend Rachel, who directed the contest).

She also stayed in my head.

***end of five minutes***

As the Twitter thread attests, L. is a beautiful young woman, in the way many sixth-grade girls are. She had no way of seeing that in herself, but she was gorgeous in a way that was all promise and no awkwardness. Beautiful face, pretty hair, total lack of awareness of how pretty she is.

Even though that point is important, the part that struck me was how her demeanor changed when she wasn’t *giving a speech*.

After the speeches, the emcee would chat with each contestant as the judges tallied our scores.

L. lit up, talking about her favorite scientist in a relaxed, articulate, engaging way. She lacked nothing. Whatever the opposite of lack … is what she demonstrated. ABUNDANCE … of intellect. Of promise. Of worth.

That’s why her comment after being told by two adult women that she is pretty and very smart: “People usually tell me I’m trash” is so devastating.

I have a daughter. I’ve been a daughter. I’ve tried to instill confidence in my own daughter and I’ve fought my own battles with trusting my intellect and knowing what I have to contribute to the world is enough.

I believe Rachel when she says, “I’m going to follow up & figure her story out & see if I can help nurture her love of all things science,” because a) I know Rachel has never said “I’m going to follow up” and failed to do so and b) she won’t lack for help.

I’ll be first in line.

*NOTE: L. obviously has a full name and it was a public contest, but it doesn’t seem fair to her to use it. Let her represent a legion of bright sixth-grade girls just like her.

Five Minute Friday OFFER

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.)