Five Minute Friday: TAKE

Five Minute Friday Take


My children had birthdays recently. My daughter turned 23, and my son turned 20. Just like that, NO MORE TEENAGERS IN THE FAMILY.

This milestone felt so big to me. Not in a bad way, but in a reflective way.

The days between June 26, 1996 and July 1, 2019 were excruciatingly long. The years, as the saying goes, were breathtakingly short.

What does it take to make a young adult?

I put on “The Things We’ve Handed Down” by Marc Cohn to play for my five minutes of writing about being the parent of two non-teenager young adults. It’s the song we used on Tenley’s birth announcement.

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man 
Will some things skip a generation 
Like I’ve heard they often can 

I see the things we’ve handed down in our children, of course. So many times, though, I don’t think we handed them something but they came into the world with qualities that don’t come from anything we did or from any DNA we contributed to the process.

It’s hard as a parent not to worry about the wounds we’ve created. As I’ve said here on my blog often, I wonder sometimes what I did in overcompensating for the things I grappled with that will create my kid’s material for the therapist’s couch.

Ultimately I come down to: I did it all out of unconditional love. I don’t know if there’s anything else we can give a child besides that.

I suppose it’ll take a lifetime (theirs) to know.

Happy birthday(s), Tenley and Wayne.

Five Minute Friday Take

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.) 

June news developments that made me say “WOW”

When Hugh Jackman sang the opening notes of “You Will Be Found” at his show in Tampa Friday night, I knew I was about to experience one of my favorite moments of the evening. When he was joined by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Tampa Bay, I had the added thrill of knowing no one — in any other city where this show is performed — would see exactly this show. Although I’m not local to Tampa, I appreciated my fellow Floridians being a part of the show, especially fellow Floridians so supportive of causes that are important to me.

As I’m looking for a thread among my favorite SmartBrief stories from June, I am thinking about my experience at the show Friday night. It mattered that the organizers involved local people. It probably would have been easier to secure some more “generic” singers … someone to vocalize the lyrics and complement Hugh. But these people meant something to me.

The stories we choose at SmartBrief (and the way we introduce them to readers) should mean something. They should make them feel “Wow, I’m glad I opened this newsletter. I’ll not see this combination, presented in this way, anywhere else.

With that thought, here are my favorites from June:


What performer earns a pre-concert standing ovation before they’ve even played a note? In the 6/3/19 issue of the BoardSource newsletter, we shared a story about measures the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is taking to deal with a massive budget shortfall. For example, the season is being cut from 52 weeks to 40 and the summer series was canceled.

The orchestra’s musicians have been protesting these cutbacks. According to this article, they received a pre-performance standing ovation, “a three-minute standing ovation at intermission and a one-minute ovation” that preceded an encore.

This is the announcement shared by Brian Prechtl, co-chairman of the BSO players (preceded by part of that pre-concert standing ovation).

The orchestra also added an unscheduled performance of “Nimrod,” which evokes loss, by Elgar. You can see a performance of “Nimrod” (not the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s, unfortunately) by visiting this link.

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society

I had a boss once (who is still a friend) whose philosophy was, “you can have any title you want. Titles are easy to give out.” Not to put words in her mouth, but I knew her and her management style well enough to know that the point was two-fold: 1) Titles are free … it doesn’t cost anything to give someone pretty much any title and 2) Your work product gives you more status than your title.

However, she never met Linda Lee, who is (wait for it) an environmental fate chemist. How great of a title is that?!

Linda Lee came to my attention because she was quoted in a 6/5/19 article about the possibility that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in biodegradable materials may leach into compost. Once that compost is used by human beings, the PFAS could end up in our bodies and potentially create health hazards.

Admittedly, we talk often about PFAS at our house because of Wayne’s responsibilities at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection. The term “environmental fate chemist,” however, has never come up. It seems so aspirational … that someone who goes into that field plans to make a difference. I’m betting my boss would have said, “sure fine call yourself an environmental fate chemist.” I’m glad Linda Lee is doing the work she is doing; all of our fates may depend on the work she is doing.

Reserve Officers Association

This article from the 6/10/19 Reserve Officers Association newsletter could be interpreted as a straightforward description of how National Guard members and reservists collaborated with local contractors in Hawaii to build a STEM building at a Girl Scout camp.

Although it is straightforward, National Guard member 1st Lt. Emelia Brooks, who was the mission-officer-in-charge, discussed how meaningful it was to be a leader on the project and a role model for girls and young women. She’s an environmental engineer, and she is usually in the minority as a woman at the workplace. She said her daughters think it’s cool to see their mom at the helm of this project.

“Representation is everything,” she said. She’s right.

June 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

1st Lt. Emelia Brooks, 138th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard and mission officer in charge of the Camp Paumalu, Innovative Readiness Training project FY 2019, oversees the construction of the project May 22 at Camp Paumalu Girl Scout Camp, Hawaii. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.)

National Emergency Number Association

While we’re on the topic of Hawaii-based stories, let’s discuss this incredible story from the 6/27/19 NENA newsletter. You might remember the story of Amanda Eller, a hiker who got lost while hiking in Hawaii and was found after 17 days.

Searchers were able to be much more effective by using a digital map developed with GPS data to make sure they didn’t duplicate efforts and cover territory they had already covered.

“We never would have pushed out if we hadn’t searched the reasonable area first. There’s no reason to start reaching further and further out of the box if we hadn’t completely searched the box ,” said volunteer search leader Chris Bergquist.

Bergquist’s statement could also be a life metaphor BUT I digress! Thanks to technology, Eller was found and other people’s lives may be saved because someone put the research time into developing the tools to make it happen.

UN Wire

This story about obstetric violence faced by women in Mexico from the 6/17/19 UN Wire newsletter was downright depressing. There are very few examples from the story I can even quote here due to their grisly and inhumane nature. Women (and girls) who died during childbirth, were rendered infertile due to cruel practices, who had to labor with absolutely no pain relief are the examples given. Indigenous women and poor women are especially subject to the human rights violations.

There must be a way to do better.

The International City/County Management Association

I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg for this story. In the 6/21/19 ICMA newsletter, we shared the Philadelphia City Council’s initial response to Facebook posts by more than 300 of its officers that contained violent and racist content. The posts were discovered as part of the Plain View Project, which works on the rationale that such posts “could erode civilian trust and confidence in police, and we hope police departments will investigate and address them immediately.”

This type of thing must be such a moment of truth for a city council and city staff. It’s an opportunity to lead, and protect residents from inappropriate behavior on the part of law enforcement. The opposite, of course, could also happen (and undoubtedly has in many municipalities). I hope for the sake of the citizens of Philadelphia that the council chooses the former.

Note: I’m not going to share any screen shots from the database (it’s too sad and I’m not sure what the permissions are). I will say one post I saw was enough to make me click out: “Its [sic] a good day for a choke hold.”

Smart Cities

I wish I could give the “favorite story” nod to this story from the 6/26/19 issue about the Tallahassee/Leon County GIS  program that has completely digitalized the disaster recovery process since Hurricane Michael last year. I do love my home team, but there’s already the possibility of a tropical depression or tropical storm developing in the Gulf of Mexico, and I refuse to give the darn weather gods any ideas about testing out all these digital disaster recovery tools. No, just no!

Therefore, all hail the Creative Village in Orange County with its 5G internet connections and other gee whiz smart city components featured in the 6/28 issue. I honestly thought “maybe we should move there” as I was reading the article and editing the summary. Mayor Dyer piqued my interest with “incredible quality of life.”

National Association of Social Workers

I saved the story that was so personally gripping for last (and that’s saying a lot given the obstetrical violence and racist law enforcement posts above).

In the 6/7/19 NASW newsletter, we shared a public service announcement created by students at Rockford High School in Illinois. The mayor asked the students to make the PSA after seeing them recite “I Got Flowers Today,” a poem about domestic violence.

Watch it for yourself; it doesn’t need my words:

Note: If you’re in Tallahassee and in danger, please contact Refuge House. If you live elsewhere and need help for a situation where you are in danger, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

June 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

Helping be a part of making people say, “wow” about their news

I invite you to peruse this list of openings (most are in DC, a couple are in NYC and there’s a part-time remote position). I wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Here are the advertised open positions as of 7/7/19:

If you are interested in applying, please list me as your referrer (for the full-time positions) 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.)

Here’s to finding news (and career opportunities) that wow you!

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

Ration Challenge 2019: How Eating Less Taught Me More

My week participating in the 2019 Ration Challenge has come to an end. Here’s a look at the experience overall:

To recap, I participated in the Church World Service Ration Challenge, where participants eat the equivalent rations to a Syrian refugee for a week. The goal is to raise funds to support refugees, to raise awareness and to have a more personal experience of what refugees’ lives are like.

The Ration Challenge Food

This is what I was provided to eat over the course of the week:

15 oz. of rice (and I was permitted to buy 3 lb., 3 oz. more)

6 oz. of lentils

3 oz. of dried chickpeas

a 15.5 oz. can of kidney beans

a 3.75 oz. tin of sardines

I was permitted to buy 14 oz. of plain flour

I “earned” the right to use salt by sponsoring myself

I “earned” the right to use one spice through my fundraising efforts (I used garlic powder on the lentils the last day)

I “earned” 6 oz. of vegetables through fundraising (I used baby carrots because they were easy to spread out)

I “earned” 4 oz. of protein through fundraising (I had an egg)

I “earned” 7 teabags by promoting the challenge through email and social media

This is slightly rough math, but the calorie count of this ration week added up to about 3235 calories, an average of 462.14 a day.

This is me unboxing the rations.

These are my observations, having done the challenge, then returned to “regular” eating.

The things you think you’ll miss most may not be the hardest to do without.

As I wrote here, the Ration Challenge captured my imagination so quickly when I read about it on social media that I signed up right away without reading the fine print. The “fine print” included the elimination of coffee, sugar and alcohol. WHOA. I also suspected that this may not end up being a bad thing for my health and my crazily fluctuating energy levels.

I never got the dreaded “no-coffee” headache. I’m sure the tea bag I started each day with (and reused since I only got one per day) helped. Pre RC, I usually had two cups of coffee by 9:30, at which point I started on Diet Cokes (in my defense, my day does start pretty early!). I also felt desperately tired by the time my deadlines ended each day and needed a midday nap. Oddly enough, my energy felt so much more even-keeled during this period. I haven’t returned to coffee or Diet Coke. Not that I won’t ever, but this was eye-opening in a way I didn’t anticipate.

Likewise for sugar and alcohol. I may have “missed” them in a “that would be nice” kind of way, but I wasn’t preoccupied by their absence.

Wasteful habits are so easy to slip into.

My wasteful habits (which probably reflect those of many in our US culture) were much more obvious to me throughout the week. Leveling off a cup of flour, it’s second nature to toss the little bit that ends up on the paper towel. Rice grains that skittered across the counter suddenly mattered.

Besides the food waste, other types of waste were more apparent. Tear off half a paper towel to rest my spoon on while cooking. Grab another half paper towel to have if I need to deal with a small spill while eating. Snacks in a paper bowl. Plastic zipper bags used for storage and then discarded although they are barely dirty.

Wasteful habits are about more than food. According to the Mother Nature Network, “Discarded paper accounts for whopping one-quarter of landfill waste and releases significant amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) as it rots.” I am sure this is an area where I’ll make progress rather than achieving perfection, but I am reminded to try.

Having plenty of clean water is its own kind of wealth.

The Ration Challenge week involved lots of clean water. Clean water to cook rice/lentils/chickpeas/flatbreads and brew tea. Clean water to wash my dishes and hands so I could have a sanitary cooking area. A clean place to deal with personal toileting needs so I didn’t get exposed to dirty water and its dangers. Gallons and gallons of clean water to drink to keep from being hungry. Refreshing ice to cool the water down and chew on to keep from being bored.

I don’t know much about the water situation in camps in Jordan, but I know there are tremendous challenges. This article notes:

Population growth in Jordan has reduced the average amount of fresh water available for each person to less than 150 cubic metres annually, much lower than the 500 cubic metres that mark water scarcity by United Nations estimates. The average water availability for United States citizens, in comparison, is more than 9,000 cubic metres a year.

Al Jazeera

Cooking is fun (but time consuming)!

I don’t mean this in a “Whee! Cooking is a blast” way. I am sure for the refugees in the camps in Jordan, “fun” is not the first word they would use. I had become disconnected, though, from the simple satisfaction of planning/measuring/cooking/tasting my food. Wayne, to his credit, does most of the cooking around here. He does it well, and I get to enjoy lots of delicious dishes. But I have always liked cooking, and this week reminded me of the enjoyment in the process.

The week reminded me how much I enjoy cooking, but it also reminded me how time consuming it is. Most nights, I would have to set aside a block of time to prepare rice for the next day and figure out what I could use from the limited rations to stretch out the next day’s food choices.

Many of us have a warped view of weight.

Think about this a second. I pay a company $45 a month to go to a place to help me figure out how to eat less (and move more) so I can weigh less.

Weight Watchers (which now technically calls itself “WW”) has proven itself to be an effective partner in achieving a healthy lifestyle for decades. I have participated on and off since I was 18. I was ecstatic to weigh in with a 5.2 pound loss for the week, but of course that was specific to the week.

What if the things our minds do to us about weight weren’t as bizarre as they are and I could spend that $45 on helping refugees (or some other worthy cause) instead?

Food scarcity is a danger on many levels.

I know it sounds obvious to say “food scarcity is dangerous.” But the value of trying to experience at least a bit of it myself made me think more deeply than I had before (and educate myself more).

I definitely became more aware of what a thin margin there is between subsistence and being on the brink of physical decline. I, of course, could have taken a break and consumed some electrolyte fluid or in some other way dealt with the effects of such a low-calorie life, but that’s not the case for refugees. Several participants chose to withdraw from the food part of the challenge and provide moral support instead, because the foods typical to refugee nutrition wrecked havoc with their blood sugar levels.

As Church World Service explained to us, the rations we got came as close as they could to approximating the same ration packages they distribute in the camps (with the obvious logistical challenges of dealing with a widespread group of individual volunteers).

The “real” CWS ration packs contain a month’s supply for a family of six, with the foods essentially the same as those we received. The difference, CWS explains, is “there isn’t enough money to give ration packs to everyone who needs them. Sometimes we can only provide 100 packs in a camp that needs thousands. Packs get shared, and many go without (committees of volunteer refugees help to identify the people in their community most in need, and priority is given to them).

This is what a “real” ration pack looks like:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

The most accurate chroniclers of the refugee experience are the refugees themselves.

Maybe I am sounding repetitive, but I totally *get* fully doing this challenge is only a glimpse into the hardships faced by refugees. There were several people in our Ration Challenge Facebook group who either are former refugees, or who have worked directly with refugees. And their experiences matter most. My fellow challenge participant, Tonia, shared a picture of her fiance, Khalid, a Syrian refugee. This is Khalid:

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up


And this is Tonia’s message relaying his sentiments/story:

This challenge is very personal for me. This is my fiance Khalid. This is a picture of him sending thanks to everyone doing the challenge. He is a Syrian refugee. His home was bombed in 2012 in Al Rastan, Syria in the providence of Homs. One of his brothers was killed. Another one is in prison and the family hasn’t heard or seen him six years. Khalid had to have his left arm and hand rebuilt after he was injured by the bombing. He was lucky though as he made it to Turkey. He faces issues there as a refugee not being able to find much work being disabled plus he is now a man without a country. He cannot leave Turkey with just his refugee status and he cannot return to Syria. He wanted me to tell all of you “Very Thank You” for all that you are doing to help his fellow Syrians. He is very grateful that there are so many of us willing to help.”

People are so generous.

The US version of the Ration Challenge has raised $356,401, enough to feed 1,827 refugees for a year. The Australian version raised $2,222,245 enough to feed 8,108 refugees for a year. In New Zealand, participants raised $348,541, enough to feed 1,169 refugees for a year. And in the UK, the amount raised was £819,489, enough to feed 5,321 refugees for a year.

I raised $634.14, and I am beyond grateful. I appreciate, too, the shares socially, the encouragement, the people who simply asked, “What is this about?” They all matter; they all add to a snowball of hope that is going to turn into an avalanche of compassion.

A look back.

My pictures are pretty one-dimensional (how do you feel about lots of rice photos?), but here are a few memories from the week.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Because I made tea rather than coffee over the course of the week, many of my cups now have permanent tea stains.

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

I like the stain. It reminds me that an experience like this is meant to stay with me and not be rinsed away.

The Ration Challenge page stays open through sometime in August, so if you’re still interested in donating, here’s the link. If you think you may be interested in doing the challenge yourself next year, I highly encourage it and I’m happy to answer any questions you have. (You can also sign up here to get alerts from CWS to know when there are opportunities to call/email/text your government officials.)

2019 Ration Challenge Wrap-Up

Why in the world do you watch that?


I suppose this isn’t such a “closet secret” now that I am writing about it here (and I’ve written about it elsewhere), but my inexplicable junk TV go-to is “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

I realize most of you who know me will ask, “WHY IN THE WORLD?”

I don’t understand it myself, but here’s my quick explanation (not fact-checked by the way, just plucked out of my head).

I wish I could drop tons of money on a party for the most frivolous of reasons. Have a good hair day? Line up the caterer, STAT.

I wish I had that kind of platform. (And I am not discounting this blog and my social media presence, which I’ve cultivated for a decade now into a bit of a platform.) But a “get people like Alice Marie Johnson out of prison and meet Van Jones and truly give other people in need of #JusticeReform options and hope” kind of platform.

I wish, when someone was asking me a mundane question such as “do you prefer French dressing or thousand island” that I had full wardrobe and makeup for the vignette where I answer.

I wish I didn’t have to worry about money (or choose to) in the way I do.

Although I disagree with most of what they do (how they dress, how they conduct themselves, the excess of it all), there are a few things that show their ultimate humanity.

Their trip to Armenia and efforts to raise genocide awareness come to mind.

Kim’s desire to become an attorney (ridiculed as it is … what if she DOES and she DOES make a difference?)

*** end of five minutes ***

I often think of Kim’s second marriage (I think it lasted 71 days) and the THREE Vera Wang gowns she wore throughout the ceremony and reception. I think of how many people that money could have fed, how much is truly could have done. (My recent week doing the #RationChallenge makes that even more of a prominent question in my head, but it’s her money — I’m as irritated at the snubbed nose at the sanctity of marriage as I am about the money.)

I often think of the rather unsavory road that led to the Kris/Robert marriage in the first place. Who knew that could end up being a launching pad for an “empire”?

I also know I would hate the constant public attention. It drives me a little nuts when they complain about the pressure of the public scrutiny, because without it they would be just another extended family in California. (I do, however, feel for their little kids who have literally never known a life outside the cameras and weren’t given a choice.)

Besides the platform part and its potential to help causes with just the dial of a phone or the swipe of a credit card, I realize I have all I need even if I don’t have all I want.

I probably need to remind myself that platforms don’t have to be Kardashian-level public to be effective. Perhaps it’s not a matter so much of keeping up as it is of keeping on (doing what I’m doing).

Five Minute Friday World
Five Minute Friday Question

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

Five Minute Friday: Question

Five Minute Friday Question


Let’s talk about the questions we should ask to avoid getting into debt.

Knowing the prompt this week was “question,” I’ve been thinking since Thursday about what I would say.

I don’t want to overshare, and it’s a tad ironic that I am writing this when I am five hours away from ending the Ration Challenge, when I tried to understand what a refugee deals with (while also raising awareness and funds for the work of Church World Service).

But I have learned to write the thing that bubbles up the most, and here it is.

I would not face some of the financial worries I face in midlife if I had asked better questions years ago. (Again, my financial worries are minor relative to the survival challenges many people face, but they are my responsibility and responsibility is my deal.)

I wish I had asked in my early 20s when I took out that first credit card, “Is this necessary? Do you really know how it all compounds and adds up?”

I wish at several points in our dating, marriage, raising a family and midlife, I had asked more pointed questions about our choices. (And I am not laying blame here — we are both responsible, but I can only retroactively change one person’s choices — even if I only do that in my head.)

I wish I had asked more “what if’s.” What if someone gets laid off (which has happened to my husband twice? What is someone gets so sick they need almost constant care (which happened with my father-in-law)? What happens if a major issue arises with the house?

What if you sit at your desk one day and say, “I can’t do this one more day“? (Happened to me. Fortunately my current situation is a 180 degree opposite.)

Had I asked those questions then, it would be so much easier for the current questions to include, “Where will the next vacation be?” or “How much more can I give to a favorite cause?” than “How am I going to get out of this debt?”

Five Minute Friday Name
Five Minute Friday Question

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.) 

Feeding a Goal

Five Minute Friday Goal


When I saw “goal” as the prompt for this week, I breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed so easy relative to other Five Minute Friday prompts.

“Seemed” is the operative word here.

I’ll stick to the immediate goal, though. I think I’m going to find it feeds (no pun intended, as you’ll see) into some longer-term goals.

I’m starting the Ration Challenge tomorrow. For seven days, I’ll eat foods that are the equivalent of the rations given to Syrian refugees in camps in Jordan.

I don’t know what I’m doing. I signed up somewhat spontaneously and definitely before I read the “no coffee” part.

I just had to look up how to cook rice (a big part of Ration Challenge week, which makes sense). And I have a home ec degree!

(My home ec degree is a bit of a smokescreen, though. It’s a child development and family relations degree. The college isn’t even called home ec anymore (it’s human sciences now). But still, shouldn’t I know how to make rice?

I’m here to report my first batch didn’t burn and didn’t stick to the pan … and takeaway number one out of what will undoubtedly end up being many is that not a single grain escaped. I didn’t carelessly leave any on the counter or let one bounce away. I’m going to need them all.

Although the primary goal is to raise awareness and funds for refugees, I think deep down I have some other goals. I want to break the cycle of eating just to break up the day. I have been needing to deal with my caffeine dependence for a while (I’m not supposed to have any due to health reasons and let’s just say I break that rule day in and day out). It will definitely not kill me to miss wine for a week.

The goal is to help refugees, but I have a hunch it’s myself that I may be helping at least as much.

*Note: If you would like to contribute, please visit this link.

Five Minute Friday Goal
Five Minute Friday Goal

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.) 

Treating Each Other Well, Always

Treating Each Other Well, Always

A guest post by my incredible friend, Tara Reynolds, a Stage 3, Her2+ Cancer Fighter. Although it doesn’t overtly say the word “well,” it says volumes about the power of treating each other well, no matter what.

I was waiting for my next cancer scan, sitting in the Head and Neck Cancer waiting room.

Often I find conversations with other cancer patients more fascinating than normal conversations because crazy-deep views and reflections/fascinating stories of life get added in. It adds old-age value to my life.

Like this morning’s appointment when I sat next to an old alligator hunter and learned about Florida living in the mid 1900’s 😂. But sometimes it feels beyond heavy too, and I feel scared and sad, like now.

It’s the ups and downs of this journey. I feel like I’m wearing military gear that comes with ticking bombs and hundreds of pounds of metal shrapnel that weighs way too much for me. But I can see a reflection of myself, and that tells me I’m actually wearing a tank top. Can’t compute that. 😢

I’m surrounded by people who have entire chunks of their faces and neck missing, many have affected voice boxes and can only whisper. Someone’s missing a leg. My heart breaks in pieces for the ways our lives have been altered by this disease.

How I want a cure.

It got so heavy in my thoughts, that I stood up and went to the bathroom as I felt a full cry coming on. The old man coming out of our special cancer patient bathroom could barely move, and was unable to speak … yet he communicated with me. He put a finger up to me (saying “wait a minute”), turned back, shuffled in pain, and put the toilet seat down for me with a wink. In the absolute worst of times, chivalry lives!!!

I read Philippians 2 this morning.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2

I am shocked at how this man just lived out that verse in front of me. He wanted to make my weight today lighter. I flung my wimpy arms around him (in a non weight-bearing way) and gave him a huge hug. I want to absorb his love and strength. Cancer patients are allowed to get emotional with each other. I told him he is living the best life – with kindness. He pointed to me, to his heart, and then to his smile. We shared the fighting-cancer spirit look – strong smiling eyes twinkling with hope.

Always. Keep. Hope. No matter how much you cry.

Ed. Note: I appreciate what Tara shared here. (Non-diplomatic version — I commandeered her Facebook post and said, “I need that for my blog.”) She is working on getting back to swimming, something I have no doubt she will do. These are two resources that have been integral to Tara, and their donation links if you’re looking for a cause to support:

Casting for Recovery Florida Casting for Recovery Florida is a volunteer-run
breast cancer fly-fishing retreat that empowers participants to, as Tara puts it, “get back out there.”
Donation Link.

American Cancer Society Hope Lodge The American Cancer Society Hope Lodge is where Tara stayed during her treatment. Patients and their caregivers are not charged. Donation Link.

Although I have shared donation links here, I think Tara and I both agree. The best thing to give is to treat someone else well. It is as easy as putting the toilet seat down. pk

Treating Each Other Well, Always

Welcome to this week’s Five Minute Friday. Although I suspended the usual rules today because I felt Tara’s message was so important, it usually works this way: “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.” It’s the creation of Kate Motaung.

3 Commercials That Don’t Make Sense

These three commercials have gotten under my skin. I’m sure each of us has some pet peeve about the way commercials misrepresent the world. Mine tend to be around inaccuracy and the assumption that we viewers are gullible.

Here’s my list:

Principal Financial Group’s “Dream Car”

This Principal Financial Group ad represents three generations of a family as family priorities change.


This ad always feels sort of contrived to me. I usually think, “if Dad’s incredible job offer is worth missing his kid’s senior year, it must be pretty lucrative. Could he not help out here and help keep his dad’s dream alive while providing for his daughter’s transportation needs?”

(This commercial may also grate on me because I hear it more times a day than I can count. I listen to CNN streaming on my laptop throughout the day and whatever deal they have for ads, this one is queued up to play constantly, it appears.)


Why is the father asking if she can spend her senior year with the grandparents in front of the daughter? Could he not have held this conversation in private to give them time to adjust (and the opportunity to decline)?

But the scene where the grandfather and the granddaughter both are wearing face masks is adorable.

I did a bit more poking around and discovered some cool facts about Annamarie Kasper, the actress who plays the granddaughter.

For one thing, her Instagram handle (piranhamarie) is cute. I’m sure she doesn’t need our help, but her feed is fun to follow and gives an enlightening glimpse into the life of an actress at the front end of her career, so I still recommend it.

She is also a college graduate and a cellist. This is one of the most unique cello performances I have ever seen:


EverlyWell (for anyone who has been under a rock or who watches zero television) is an at-home testing kit. It was also a Shark Tank winner. This is their ad for food sensitivity testing.


My main “observation” is: I am skeptical. Turns out I have company in this skepticism.

StatNews calls the EW $199 food-sensitivity test “dubious,” noting its reliance on testing for immunoglobulin G, an immune protein, runs counter to findings and recommendations from the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

A TechCrunch reviewer found the $79 EW ovarian reserve test “fine … [but] it’s not very useful unless you’re thinking about trying to get pregnant in the near future.”  (And I realize I strayed away from the food-sensitivity topic, but I appreciated the thoroughness of this review.)

This is another one that I end up hearing so many times in a typical day. Apparently I am on the same algorithm as the YouTube commenter who said, “They play this commercial, every commercial break, on my streaming channels.. At first not so bad, but it becomes a cruel form of torture.. ” Like that commenter, I may not be sensitive to dairy, but I am 100% sensitive to overplays of this ad!

I am all for convenience and saving myself the annoyance of going to a doctor’s office and/or lab. I’m also grateful that our health insurance covers most of these types of tests for a reasonable copay. I just don’t see the medical rigor in many of these at-home tests to merit dropping a couple hundred bucks on them.

BrightStar Care

I could have written this entire post about this commercial alone. (But The Senior List did in Open letter to Home Care Companies- Stop with the Guilt Trip Already, so I’m off the hook because they saved me the work.)

Here it is:


While I realize this is a very subjective thing to say, the images in this ad of health care paraprofessionals and professionals seem so perfect. Although we had some very competent home health care providers during the time Dad lived here, everything (in general) was messier, more hit-and-miss and required a great deal of oversight on our part.

The worst part, though, is that last line “Because Dad made us promise we’d keep Mom at home.” Decisions about caregiving in general, and about whether a loved one should remain in the home or go to assisted living, are difficult. They should be evaluated objectively in a way that incorporates factors including economics, what type of supervision the older person needs and what resources the grown children have with which to provide care.

It’s a tough enough decision as is. No one needs to be guilted by a commercial (although I realize — ironically — that the final line in that ad may make it more effective than it would have been otherwise).

3 Commercials That Don't Make Sense

Five Minute Friday: NAME

Five Minute Friday Name


Many of us say while socializing, “I’m bad with names. I may have to ask you next time we see each other.”

That’s certainly the case with me. The truth of the matter, though, is that I tell people I’m bad with names because it’s easier for them to understand that than it is for them to comprehend my difficulty with faces.

And all of that is ironic because people are so important to me. The last thing I want to do is make someone feel they don’t matter or that I didn’t care enough to remember them.

I have been thinking about specific individuals, and what they must be named, lately due to my work. One of the newsletters I edit, UN Wire, covers events in the world that are of interest to people who follow the United Nations Foundation.

Every time I work on that newsletter (three times a week), I struggle to get my head around the sheer volume of people who are dying or suffering in our world.

I did some crude math based on a recent issue. Adding up the deaths, injustices, illnesses and crimes against humanity, I came up with:


Thirteen MILLION, five hundred twenty-seven thousand, eight hundred thirty-four human beings. The types of issues included being displaced, being food insecure, children who had been raped, women who had been raped, victims of Ebola, births among 10-14 year old girls in Guatemala, UN personnel and implementing partners who had submitted abuse allegations, people injured or killed due to cyclones, people held political prisoner, people displaced/killed in Burundi and Syria, education disrupted and more people living as refugees.

***end of five minutes***

I am preparing to participate in the Ration Challenge, during which I will eat the equivalent food as that eaten by a Syrian refugee for a week. I needed to have a name in my head to picture who this is for. It’s so easy to see the mushrooming numbers of people suffering and forget that every single one of those people is someone’s daughter or son.

I very unscientifically googled “name of a refugee in Syria” and came up with Elhem, a 17-year old who became a mother herself after marrying at the age of 13. She married her older cousin after she began living at a refugee camp. She says her marriage was “not a decision borne out of love or romance.”

I’ve joked around about how hard it will be to live without coffee for a week. I’ve send fundraising emails making fun of the fact that I rushed into this challenge without fully comprehending the “no sugar” and “no alcohol” parts.

But life for Elhem is no joke, and her name will motivate me.

*Note: If you would like to contribute, please visit this link.

Five Minute Friday Name

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.) 

The Endlessly Fascinating Nonprofit World

May was a blur. There’s a reason a group of my friends have a “Mothers Surviving May” party. It’s tough month (even for an empty nester, it seems).

Looking back, here’s what stuck with me most from the stories I encountered as a SmartBrief editor last month. If I had to capture the theme, I’d say, “life is rough and we take care of ourselves best by saying ‘no’ sometimes.”

May 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Honor Society

We shared a story about how men’s grant proposals scored better than women’s (the study examined almost 7,000 submissions to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Even though the reviewers preferred men’s word choices, men’s projects didn’t perform better than women’s.

I encourage you to read the linked article. It was difficult not to walk away from it with a “when are we ever going to have equity?” type of feeling. However, the beauty of science is that the question was asked. Researchers learned more. Potential solutions were floated. It’s a start.

UN Wire

In this article, I learned that around 270,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh had been issued ID cards. This was the first time any of these people had been formally identified as people. So basic, yet so essential. Without ID, they had difficulty getting aid, were more susceptible to human trafficking and were more likely to have difficulty finding family members when separated.


Remember the story I shared from Sigma Xi, about how
Male researchers’ wording favored by grant reviewers? It was the third-best-performing story in BoardSource last month.

These equity issues apply in so many of life’s arenas.

Reserve Officers Association

For the ROA SmartBrief, we discussed how a lack of funding has resulted in delays to repairs needed at Tyndall Air Force Base.

This one is personal. Tyndall is less than two hours from me … less than 100 miles. My fellow North Floridians are still struggling, nine months after Hurricane Michael struck. Hurricane season just began again. I want their lives to get back on track.

The International City/County Management Association

I read a story this month that was included in the ICMA SmartBrief that hit all my favorite targets for stories: facts, a “people” angle, good writing. On its surface, it was about flooding issues in Ellicott City, Md., but at its heart it was about so much more.

I wrote about that story in this Five Minute Friday post. Read it and think about Eddie’s legacy. I’m sure it would matter to his family and friends.

National Emergency Number Association

Elivia Shaw and Paloma Martinez, produced “The Shift,” a documentary chronicling San Francisco dispatchers’ work lives and the stress they experience. One of their goals was to encourage passage of the 911 SAVES Act, legislation that Martinez says “would allow for increased funding, training, and other benefits to people like the dispatchers in [the] film.”

Dispatchers experience stresses many of us don’t understand well. Here’s the documentary; it’s worth the eight minutes it takes to watch it.


I am editing a new (to me) brief, the Smart Cities SmartBrief. It covers smart cities, the internet of things and the “connected world.” I can already tell I’m going to enjoy the subject matter with this brief. Here’s one big “a ha” I’ve already had:

You may be able to use the MTA in New York without a metrocard sometime next year. In theory, the next time I go, I may have to figure out a whole new way to pay. It wouldn’t be the first time, of course. I successfully transitioned from tokens to Metrocards. Still … mind slightly blown!

National Association of Social Workers

It was impossible to choose just one story to feature from May’s NASW brief. Usually, as the month goes by I pop over to my blog and drop in favorites as they accumulate over the month. Because May was such a sprint (and never a cool down), June arrived and I had only dropped in two links. Both were from NASW!

I think, looking at them, that the two things relate in a way.

I am a fan of Brian Cuban. I appreciate his candor about his journey through addiction and an eating disorder, along with his commitment to helping people in the legal profession cope with its stresses.

Cuban’s “Above the Law” post, Using The Power Of Story To Break Law Firm Mental Health Stigma, discusses how breaking the mental health stigma involves trying to understand and acknowledge the root causes behind the challenges many people face. As he notes, waiting until someone has a crisis is not optimal. He writes, “A skin-tight suit of shame … may have been worn for years, maybe decades, possibly a lifetime.”

Earlier, the month, we shared Self-Care A-Z: Black Women and Self-Care from “The New Social Worker.” Social worker Cortney Downs discussed why self care matters, especially for women who feel a burden to be a “strong black woman.” She said part of self care involves saying no. I love her reminder to do it “with a period, not a comma.”

Not that I have walked in Brian Cuban’s shoes or Cortney Downs’, but I have had my own struggles with overcoming entrenched negative self talk. And sometimes I dealt with that by saying “yes” to too many things or the wrong things.

My Second “Originals” Post

Have you seen “The Public”? If you haven’t, you should (in my opinion)! The release of the movie dovetailed nicely with my growing interest in the role of social workers in libraries.

Take a look at Library Social Work: Separating Fact From Fiction, and let me know your thoughts.

May 2019 SmartBrief wrapup

If You’re Looking to Turn a New Career Page

I invite you to peruse this list of openings if you’re in DC and being a part of our team may make sense for you (or if you know someone in DC who is seeking a great opportunity). I wrote in more detail about my experience as a SmartBrief employee here, which may help answer any questions you have. As always, I’m happy to answer questions and provide more information about the process.

Here are the advertised open positions as of 6/2/19:

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 (and which crossed the 100,000 subscriber mark recently!), 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!

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