Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I bought a new (to me) car yesterday.

I’m so excited about the new car, partially because I’ve been enduring a car without air conditioning through three long Tallahassee summers. That’s not the only problem with the car, but arriving at events with melted makeup and clothes stuck to my skin had grown old and uncomfortable.

Before celebrating that car, though, the car it’s replacing deserves a proper sendoff.

My 2005 Honda CR-V, which I got in 2008, had 45,768 miles on it at the time and is now 300 miles away from having 200,000.

Our Odyssey died unceremoniously one day in 2008 when I was driving down I-10. Wayne had just gotten approved for financing to get a vehicle of his own, but once our family workhorse had been declared terminal, we ended up needing two vehicles for the financing that was intended to cover one.

We got both of them from our credit union’s buying service. He got a 2006 Chevrolet Silverado. I got the CR-V. I don’t remember much discussion at all about the cosmetics. I did know in advance that it was blue. All that mattered (pretty much) was that it would run.

And run it did.

There are so many memories in that car:

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle
A Monster energy drink sticker can only mean “Wayne Kevin was here” (years ago)

Multiple trips taking kids to school.

A trip the kids and I took to Kennedy Space Center and Cypress Springs.

The kids using it as *their* first car when they began driving.

Me backing into a pole at the Subway on Tennessee Street after taking Tenley to a college visit at FSU.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

One child (won’t single them out) having their first accident in the car.

Me thinking the Idiots Running Club seriously meant we had to use our last names when we got our IRC decals made.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

Many trips taking my father-in-law to doctor’s appointments, to his beloved afternoons at the bar, to radiation treatments. I never figured out how to get this visor to stay in the “up” position once the spring broke, which was frustrating. At the time, there was some kind of “as seen on TV” product that WAS a car visor. He would say, “you ought to get that.” And I would kind of blow it off, but he was actually right. This problem was probably easily fixed, but we were pretty deep into the challenge of dealing with debt at the time, and I just couldn’t muster the energy (or finances) to pursue fixing something that seemed like a relatively minor issue.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

The paint slowly getting so degraded that the paint job looked just as resigned as I did about the car’s appearance.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I was always relieved that I ended up loving this car, which I didn’t test drive and didn’t have much to do with choosing, so much. I’m pretty sure I treasured this car more than Wayne loved the truck he bought in the same transaction.

I never gave it a name, but maybe “True Blue” would be a fit. It got me through 12 years safely and mostly reliably. The air conditioning pooped out the last few years, but it was always a cool car.

Thank you, True Blue. You served me well.

Goodbye to a true-blue vehicle

I’m linking up with Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt “Tell us about the last thing you purchased.”

This is the time to be forward

This is the time to be forward

FORWARD

Being “forward” in the sense of speaking up first, taking a risk, not sitting back to hear other opinions before expressing mine, does not come naturally to me.

Maybe it shouldn’t.

There’s something to be said in this world for the tendency many of us introverts have to process lots of information, take time to formulate our stance, and craft whatever we are going to say or write.

But I feel awash in a world of “forward” people.

I think it’s the “instant” nature of social media that makes this feeling of being awash so potent right now. Maybe the closed-in situation created by the pandemic too.

We sit at our keyboards, watching issues like the Amy Cooper/Christian Cooper confrontation and the killing of George Floyd, seeing social media explode with outrage, premature conclusions (sometimes) and lives being changed rapidly (or in Floyd’s case, lives being ended) and we don’t know what to do.

I think the people in our history who ended up making a difference — bigger names such as Malcolm X and Andrew Goodman and less well-known changemakers didn’t do so by not being forward, brash, courageous, brave.

So much of the discourse I’ve read over the last couple of days (and a little bit of the opining I have shared) had to do with what we teach at home. I do believe that creating a less racist world depends (in part) on what we teach at home and how we raise our kids.

I also know hate-filled people have emerged from homes where acceptance and love for one’s fellow humans were taught and demonstrated.

Somehow, we have to teach our children (and ourselves) to be forward in the moments when it matters, to call out racism when it is tempting to stay silent — when the relative makes the racist joke, when they post the meme that stereotypes and degrades.

There are times to be forward, and we’re going to have plenty of them in the near future.

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.) 

This is the time to be forward

WestPhillyAuthor: My writing inspiration

WestPhillyAuthor: My writing inspiration

I am thrilled to welcome Gerald Jackson, known as West Philly Author on social media, to share a guest post. I heard him read his book, “A Father’s Message,” on the Philadelphia Parks Alliance Readalong, and I wanted to know more about how he came to write the book. He tells the story best:

I never knew the title “author” would one day be a name associated with me. Little did I know my story would be able to connect to so many. It all started in a single-parent home, my mother, brother, and me. That’s right, someone was missing, and that person was my father.

My father was out of the house before I could remember. As the days went on, the void grew stronger. I struggled with knowing that my father knew I existed and knew where I lived, but still didn’t make it a priority to be there. I was crushed and did not know how to handle my emotions. For me, all I really wanted was for my father to play an active role in my life. I wanted a childhood filled with memories of my father to pass down. Instead, I was left with days feeling all alone praying one day my father would come around and knock on my door. The sad truth was days turned into months and months turned into years. What I became used to was times when my father would pop up out of the blue and before I knew it, he would again disappear.

I tried to keep myself busy playing sports to ease the pain. I played little league football in my community but felt like the only kid on the field without their father around to cheer their child on. So, I didn’t go back the next year. Next, I tried swimming my freshman year in high school and really enjoyed it. My neighbor, who was like a father figure to me, came to see me swim one day and I was smiling from ear to ear. I felt for once in my life somebody other than my mother cared. Unfortunately, the next year my swim team switched practice location, and it was too far for my mom to make the travel commitment. So, I decided to quit the team because I didn’t want to put a burden on my mother. My neighbor and uncle were the consistent men in my life, but still couldn’t replace the void I was feeling. I found myself putting barriers up to prevent getting let down. Honestly, what I was doing was making matters worse and harder to ignore the pain.

One day I had enough and could not handle the void I was feeling. I wanted to throw in the towel and call it quits. Yes, I was about to end my life. I thought if I committed suicide that would be a sure way to end the pain. In that moment I heard a voice saying, “all this time you are looking for a physical father, you have a spiritual father who has never left your side”.

Now, things didn’t change overnight but that night something did change. From that day forward I knew I was never alone and that was enough for me to keep going. I no longer looked at my situation as a failure. In fact, God has opened my eyes to see my situation as a blessing. I believe God gave me this test to share with the world. I wouldn’t even have a story to tell if my upbringing was different. I never had a vision of becoming an “Author” and reading or writing wasn’t my strength in school (that’s why we need editors in this world).

I started to look at things from this angle, my message wasn’t just for me, it’s bigger than me. So, it was imperative to share my message so every child who needs to hear it has the opportunity. I would have failed if I didn’t share the message given to me. Initially we don’t know what comes from sharing our story, but one thing for certain we all know what happens when we don’t.

Now, I stand before you as an independent author who wrote a children’s book titled “A Father’s Message” to encourage children to know they are never alone and to let them know their situation may start one way but it doesn’t have to end that way. “A Father’s Message” provides life lessons that give strength and encouragement throughout this journey called life.

Your favorite @WestPhillyAuthor,

Gerald L. Jackson

Here’s WestPhillyAuthor reading his book:

To get a copy of your own, visit this link.

And to learn more about WestPhillyAuthor, here are his links:

Website

Facebook

Instagram

WestPhillyAuthor: My writing inspiration

Thank you, WestPhillyAuthor, for sharing your story and your book!

A mistake that made things better

A mistake that made things better

These are not normal times, and the Army’s 54th Quartermaster Company does not have a normal assignment. Members of the unit, which does mortuary services, have been serving in New York City, assisting the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) with managing tasks related to casualties of COVID-19.

Last week, I shared a story about the company’s work in the Reserve Officers Association newsletter, which I edit. The story came from the Army Reserve News Articles, and we try to feature stories about the Reserve and the National Guard when at all possible (as opposed to active-duty service members).

One thing I loved about this story was the fact that a health care provider is making therapy dogs available to the company’s members. Their work is grueling, and the animals provide needed support.

That evening, I posted the story to my Facebook and tagged the company. I did that mainly because I often post stories about “dispatch puppies,” dogs adopted by emergency services units to help dispatchers deal with their stress.

The dispatch world has been pretty light on puppy stories lately, so I shared the story about the 54th Quartermaster Company because at least it mentioned therapy dogs.

The next morning, I had a message from the company clarifying that they are an active-service unit, not a Reserve unit. The source article we had summarized was incorrect.

That left me with a quandary. I could theoretically just leave our publication alone, except for making a correction in the archived copy. Our copy desk chief suggested I do a correction also (so that readers of our next issue will know we made the change).

I have a couple of thoughts to share about how all of this happened.

First, I appreciate the conversation I had with the copy desk editor. She said sharing this kind of story demonstrates that we care about our work on a personal level in addition to an editorial level (this is true for me).

Second, the conversation I had with the communications person for the company brought tears to my eyes amid pandemic craziness. After I had apologized for the error and explained what I planned to do to fix it, this was the response:

No, thank you ma’am for highlighting the work that has been accomplished here in NYC! Overall [it’s] a whole-of-government approach that regardless of component or agency we all have a shared understanding about the ultimate goal: Assist a beleaguered city in their time of need!

Member of the 54th Quartermaster Company

That service member saved the day by bringing the error to light. More than that, the unit is doing their part to save the dignity of those who have passed from COVID-19 and to support a city I love.

A mistake that made things better
A memory from a 2012 walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

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.) I also threw out the five-minute rule for this one!

I’m also linking up to Kat Bouska’s blog for the prompt “Share a story about someone who ‘saved the day’ for you.”

A mistake that made things better

Mom would tell me to refrain from…

Mom would tell me to refrain from...

REFRAIN

On this Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of things my mom would have asked me to refrain from. (I realize this graphic probably means for us to write about musical refrains, but I’m doing something else.)

I’ve been grappling with the challenge of being respectful and responsive on social media, both on my personal blog and professionally.

On my personal blog, I wrote something I believe wholeheartedly that many people took exception to. I wake up every morning and check the comments to see what new thought has been shared, holding my breath a little bit as the site comes up. I’ve gotten 28 comments. A reporter who wrote beautifully about the same topic (apologies – paywall) has gotten 1,000+, and the comments on her post are brutal. I don’t have it so bad, but I think on balance my mom would have suggested I refrain from writing about the topic at all.

In addition, a reader of one of the publications I edit made a comment on Twitter that worked its way all the way up to a senior leader at my organization. The leader was even-handed in their response, but I still felt the heavy weight of a reader’s disapproval for days. My wise boss simply reminded me that we put out a good product (true) and that you can’t make everyone happy (also true). My mom probably would tell me to refrain from checking that reader’s Twitter stream so much to see if they say anything else. My mom would probably be right. (The irony, though, is that I can tell this reader and I have such a similar take on the world. Thanks, social media and the odd lens of Twitter for driving two people apart.)

My mom was not one to make big public statements. Yet, I think it was growing up as her daughter that made me a) write to figure things out and b) want to fight just a little bit harder to create equilibrium where things don’t make sense.

She always told me to be pretty (in my attitude — it wasn’t an admonition about appearance). Time will tell if there’s a way to blend that with standing firm.

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.) 

Mom would tell me to refrain from...

No sports? No problem! Here’s a news game

The world is pretty much without professional and college sports right now. I have done 18 posts to highlight my favorite SmartBrief stories for each month, so although this little game won’t replace the thrill of the Final Four or a spring of baseball, hopefully it will change things up a little bit from my previous formats and exercise your brain.

The briefs I edit fall under the “nonprofit” umbrella, yet they are pretty diverse. Maybe it’s just the pandemic talking, but as I looked back at my favorite stories from April, there seemed to be similarities I don’t always see. Is it logical that there was an intersection between social work and business transformation? Is there a way science and social work converge?

I will do my usual breakdown of briefs and favorite stories after this, but if you want to challenge your mind, here’s an option.

Click on the graphic below and it will take you to a game.

After clicking on the graphic: 1) Click the green arrow to start 2) Click the red “next” button 3) Now you’re at the game! Drag the topic area to the quote you think it matches. For example, if you think “public safety” matches up with ‘Why don’t we just try … then become that?’, drag “public safety” to that quote. It will only stick the correct brief area to the correct quote, so the good news is you’ll have scored “100” by the time you’re done!*

No sports? No problem! Here's a news game

Whether you played the game or not, here are my favorites.

BoardSource (Nonprofit board management)

This story in the April 7 issue of the BoardSource newsletter was about how the American Refugee Committee went about rebranding itself. The article goes in-depth about how the organization arrived at its new name, “Alight.” I was struck by the executive director’s comment that they asked themselves, “Why don’t we just try to do what we think is right, and then become that?” So many businesses and nonprofits do things the other way around — picking a name or logo and then trying to squeeze themselves into that identity. I liked the call to really think about WHAT you are doing before telling the world WHO you are.

Quote: Why don’t we just try to do what we think is right, and then become that?

Business Transformation SmartBrief (Business transformation)

This is the newest brief to my lineup (it was created in December of last year). It has the word “business” in its name for a reason, but I like the stories that encourage people to think in transformative ways as much or more than the stories that are more narrowly focused on business and the fourth industrial revolution. In the April 10 issue, we shared a story about the power of imagination, even at times like this when businesses are forced to make very cut-and-dried decisions to survive.

Quote: Imagination is … one of the hardest things to keep alive under pressure.

International City/County Management Association (City/county management)

The reason I chose a quote from this story that was in the April 14 issue requires a brief explanation. The county council involved found itself in the position of choosing to reassure citizens that they would not increase taxes. That sounds a bit vanilla BUT … the prospect of a tax increase (which only one of the five members was supporting) really only got public attention because it was, for the first time, published in a larger newspaper than usual. It had to be published in a larger paper than usual because the smaller newspapers that used to carry legally-required ads of this type are now defunct.

The quote I chose for the “game” is “there are no more local print newspapers closer to the area,” but this is one that needs to be read in context.

“The advertisement was placed in small, local publications in years past. This was the first year that it was published in The Washington Post because there are no more local print newspapers closer to the area, [the county budget director] said.”

and

“The ad might have received more attention this time because it was placed in a large newspaper and people might be reading through the newspaper more because of a stay-at-home order in effect in Maryland.” (Also a statement by the budget director.)

Moral of the story: Newspapers of all sizes matter.

National Association of Social Workers (Social work)

Our team member who does the searches for the social work stories does a great job of trying to find angles we haven’t covered before. That’s why I especially liked this story in our April 23 issue about how the pandemic challenged traditional Ramadan practices this year. A social worker talked about how stay-at-home orders are especially difficult on elder members of the Somali American Muslim community where she works in Minnesota. The quote I used came from a business owner who was providing more context (and it’s certainly universal beyond social work).

Quote: The businesses here are losing a lot of money because few people are buying.

National Emergency Number Association (Public safety)

One of the areas of focus for the NENA Public Safety brief is how law enforcement uses social media to communicate with the public. That’s why I loved this story in the April 2 issue about a sheriff who is being a creative communicator. Sheriff Robert Maciol and other department staff members have been going to schools around the community to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and broadcast it on Facebook live. I’ve heard so many instances of kids missing their school routines. I have to imagine this delights some children (and their parents).

Quote: In these tough times, neighbors and communities need to band together.

Reserve Officers Association (Military reserve officers)

Before I read this article in the April 27 ROA newsletter, I have to admit I was a little skeptical (ignorant, I suppose) when I would read about an entire ambulance being decontaminated or an N95 mask being reusable if appropriately decontaminated. But this article explained it very well and made me appreciate the National Guard troops who are deployed against COVID-19 even more.

Quote: We’re trying to find out how much hydrogen peroxide is needed for how long, to be effective in different HVAC systems.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society (Science)

We use Gizmodo as a source fairly often in this brief, but I am always excited when one of the articles we’re sharing is from its Birdmodo category. In the April 9 issue, we shared an article about a rare hybrid hawk and how it came to be. The writer has such an engaging style; he makes bird stories fun to read while also providing accurate scientific information. I’ve been married for 27 years, so I can’t say I still know for sure whether it’s swiping left or right that’s a good thing, but I definitely got the point when the writer said this:

Quote: … after years of unrequited courting, someone finally swiped right.

UN Wire (United Nations Foundation)

Finally, UN Wire, which as you can imagine for an international brief dealing with issues relevant to followers of the United Nations Foundation was heavily weighted toward the pandemic. The story I chose a quote from is related to the pandemic too, but as a Shot at Life champion and advocate for children worldwide to have access to immunizations, this is the one that stood out to me. It’s from the April 29 issue.

Quote: The effect of the lack of vaccinations has already begun to emerge.

Fun with a webinar

Since going full-time at SmartBrief in September 2018 (I had been a freelancer for a while before that), I have been reflecting on the adventure of climbing a whole new learning curve after having a career in a different industry. Some things feel much more comfortable now that I can see the two-year mark in the near future. Yet there are always opportunities to do something new. In April, I got to moderate a webinar. My part was pretty limited (introducing the speakers, helping get the questions asked by participants to them, saying goodbye and closing things out), but the whole process was interesting.

As I’ve learned from being a volunteer producer on the New York Times readalong and from some other recent experiences helping facilitate livestreamed events, preparation matters OH SO MUCH. Therefore, it was as interesting to me to see the backend pieces (meeting with the presenters, etc.) as it was to do the actual event. If you’re interested in learning more about GovPilot (government management software), you can get access to the “Cloud-Based Government Management for Crisis and Beyond” webinar by visiting this link.

Keeping people informed isn’t a game

I’m proud of the work we do at Future/SmartBrief. I take seriously our role in helping people stay informed, especially at a time when information is flying all over the place (not all of it especially accurate).

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 inquiries and provide more information about the process.

Open positions at SmartBrief and Future plc can be found at this link. As of this writing, the most recent position listed is this Digital Ad Trafficker position in our Washington, D.C., office. 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. We’re also still producing a brief specific to COVID-19 on Tuesdays and Fridays, and you can subscribe to it 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.

No sports? No problem! Here's a news game

*I know the score it gives you isn’t “100.” It’s actually designed for you to review the topic areas/terms first then try to beat the clock. Hey, I’m the nonprofit person, not the educational design person!

**The views expressed here are my personal views and not those of my employer.

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