Empowering Women: It Takes a Tribe

There is a mountain in Mexico I want to climb. I don’t mean in a “carabiners and ropes” kind of way, but in a “take a vehicle as far as you can and then walk the rest of the way” kind of sense. The goal? To help my friend Felisa Hilbert, one of my favorite examples of women empowering women, with the clinic she has established in a remote Mexican community that has no running water.

Felisa is a fellow Shot at Life champion. Although as Shot at Life champions, she and I have attended multiple conferences and trainings about helping children around the world have access to life-saving vaccines to prevent diseases like measles, pneumonia, polio, and infections that cause diarrhea, she has taken the next step: actually built a clinic from the ground up to help children in Tetzilquila, Veracruz, Mexico.

Empowering Women

The clinic is “up” a mountain but you have to walk “down” to get to it!

Empowering Women

Empowering Women Requires a Variety of Strengths

Felisa is the first person who came to mind when I learned of Heifer International’s new women’s empowerment initiative, which encourages us to think about four types of women in our lives: allies, entrepreneurs, artists, and den mothers. Read about her dedication to her clinic in this article (highlight below):

Hilbert has taken that philosophy to a rural community in Tex Tiquila, Mexico, where she is working to build a medical clinic. The community, made up of 40 families who speak Nahuatl, a native Aztec language, in place of Spanish, is completely isolated and lacks basic services, she said.

Although most people know Heifer International for their animal gifting program, they also do critical, impactful work to support and empower women. They believe that women have limitless potential, but limited opportunity and equip and empower marginalized women with resources and training as a means to sustainable livelihoods and community leadership positions.

Identifying Our Tribes

Heifer International developed a fun quiz to help us figure out our own tribe personas. Not surprisingly, I found out I am an “ally.” For Felisa, I would say she straddles two of the categories, “entrepreneur” (seriously, building a clinic on a remote Mexican mountain is not for the faint of heart or timid) and artist (check out the jewelry she makes then sells to support the clinic at the Jewelry for a Purpose Facebook page (pix of a few example below)).

Empowering Women

I’m also lucky to have great “den mothers” in my life. These are the people who don’t get sucked down by details BUT always seem capable of making sure no one gets left out and ensure there are snacks, drinks, and whatever other provisions we need at any get-together!

Honoring Felisa

Felisa, thank you for being you. Thank you for tirelessly supporting others. You inspire me to be better and today I am paying it forward to other women via a Heifer International Women’s Empowerment donation in your honor! This donation will fund a Heifer Women’s Self-Help Group that will teach women to read and write (empowering them to take control), give them livestock and training to increase their sense of self-reliance, and enable women to jointly better their communities through group savings and activities. SO INCREDIBLE.

Empowering Women

Celebrating the Sustainable Development Goals, especially HEALTH, with Felisa at the Social Good Summit in 2015.

Other Ways to Help Women Through Heifer International

To learn more about Heifer’s women’s empowerment efforts, check out heifer.org/joinhertribe. I would love all of my women readers to share about an incredible woman today!

There are several ways to be involved. While donations do, of course, rock, here are some additional social media actions you can take via Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter between now and April 15 to be a part of this effort to amplify the #JoinHerTribe initiative and support women worldwide.

  • A photo of you + a woman who has inspired you (to grow your business, prioritize self-care, pursue creativity, help others, etc.)
  • A compilation graphic — 4 faces to fit the tribe roles of The Ally, The Den Mother, The Entrepreneur, and The Artist
  • A dedication to a mom or friend who has helped you through challenging parenting times
  • Public personalities you aren’t connected with personally but who inspire you to do great things (Oprah, Maya Angelou, etc.)
  • A video dedication to someone who inspired you to vlog

Who has made a difference by being part of your tribe? Give them a shout-out today!

Empowering Women

6 Life Truths From Fast Passes

I’m honestly not sure how you “do” Disney parks these days without a smartphone. With your device in hand and the help of the MyDisneyExperience app, you can plan and coordinate your entire visit, especially the Fast Pass process.

With a Fast Pass, you get expedited access to attractions, character meet and greets, and shows. After my recent visit, a few thoughts on how using the Fast Pass system intersects with six general life truths.

Planning Ahead Pays

If you want to avoid lengthy lines on the “big” Disney attractions, a Fast Pass is a necessity. When we went to Hollywood Studios, Tenley got fast passes for Tower of Terror, the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and the Frozen Sing-Along Celebration in advance. Although I didn’t do the two thrill rides, it helped expedite our trip that Tenley and her friend could do them with a minimum of waiting. And we all enjoyed being able to walk right into the Frozen Sing-a-long without standing around in a line moving at a glacial pace.

If You Fail to Plan Ahead, You Have to Watch Everyone Else Who Did Move Faster

Disney has definitely mastered the art of making long lines look deceptively manageable from the outside looking in. Get in line for something with a 110 minute wait time, thinking “ah … that doesn’t look that bad,” and find yourself enviously watching the Fast Pass holders stream on by, on their way to their fast-tracked experiences.

Standing in Line Isn’t ALWAYS Bad

Although this directly contradicts the above, life is full of contradictions, no? We chose to stand in long lines for several attractions we did not have Fast Passes for, and we had some of the best experiences of the trip during those waits. We spent time talking to a fun family from Oklahoma, discussing the challenges of siblinghood, the pros and cons of uniforms for school kids, and lots of other fun topics. Time flew.

We also played Heads Up! (mostly the Broadway version) and discovered a) how generational some Broadway knowledge is and b) how much fun you can have waiting in line (thanks, technology!).

Sometimes Planning Ahead Doesn’t Make THAT Much Difference

While Tenley and her friend were on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I chose to do The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Fast Pass available to me was 35 minutes away, and the regular wait time was 40 minutes. BUT … I chose to get a Fast Pass so I could squeeze in a little errand I wanted to do. Technically, though, having a Fast Pass only saved me five minutes.

Overplanning Can Result in Missing Out on Serendipitous Happenings

The Fast Pass process can lure you into thinking only the Fast Pass activities are worthwhile. I think much of the Disney Magic is generated by being open to the unexpected, the small-but-magical, the discoveries you can’t force. We ended up doing pictures with Mickey Pretzels at Hollywood Studios (after I oh-so-brilliantly observed “oh, the pretzels are Mickey shaped! (SIGH….)). The lighting at that spot was perfect. Any other angle of the sun and it wouldn’t have worked. We were there at the right time, no Fast Pass required.

Disney Philosophy

If only the magic could have taken care of my cowlick!

The Big Things Have Limits

Anyone remember paper tickets? How after a day at Disney your “E” tickets would be history while you would still have a fistful of the less valuable “A” tickets? The same principle still applies, just via an app. We still can’t (or shouldn’t) do ALL “big things” — discovering the hidden gems matters.

Disney Philosophy

Belle and Lumiere were enchanting, even without Fast Passes.

NOTE: There is plenty of fine print with Fast Passes, like who gets the earliest selection window (60 days for people with reservations to stay on Disney Property), how many you can get at a time (three), and more. Read up ahead of time to get the most out of your Fast Passes (I linked to the official Fast Pass site above but Undercover Tourist has great tips here too)!

History, Hidden Figures, and One Engineer’s Advice

Book clubs have changed. I know of some that don’t read a book at all (emphasis on wine). My book club DOES read, and takes reading seriously, but we would rather someone join us even if she hasn’t read the book yet. When Hearth and Soul hosted a book club centered on the book Hidden Figures recently, I attended even though I had “only” seen the movie. I appreciate their hospitality and learned so much from the event.

The organizers of the Hearth and Soul Hidden Figures gathering had invited Charmane Caldwell, Ph.D., to share her experiences as an African-American female engineer. She is an alumna of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering (2011) and currently serves as the Diversity and Inclusion Director at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

Female Engineers

Dr. Caldwell talks with attendees at the Hearth and Soul Hidden Figures event.

Dr. Caldwell’s takeaways enhanced our understanding of the book, but more than that, they incorporated messages that any young woman would be wise to consider.

The Difference Between “How” and “Why”

As Dr. Caldwell explained her evolution from college student, to engineer, to faculty member, she said she discovered an important truth along the way:

The person who knows how will always get a job but the person who knows why will always be their boss.

Ever since I read an account long ago of how pilots’ knowledge of the “old fashioned” engineering behind aviation, of having to KNOW and mentally calculate adjustments in order to fly planes rather than relying on automation, resulted in the fact that 185 out of 296 passengers survived the crash of United Flight 232 on July 19, 1989, I have felt strongly that the “why” is critical to know in addition to the “how.”

I encourage my kids (a high school senior and a college junior) to understand the “why’s.” Especially in an age of automation, where we barely have to lift a finger to get directions from point A to point B, to order a pizza, or to share a picture with a friend a world away, it’s important to understand what makes all that automation tick. It will make you more valuable as a potential employee and it must might save your (or someone else’s) life someday. 

The Value of a Growth Mindset

A “growth mindset” is one of those things that most of us would probably say “yeah of COURSE it’s important to have a growth mindset.” But what does “growth mindset” really mean?

My friend Jon Mertz defined “growth mindset” well in a recent post:

Individuals with a growth mindset learn and encourage others to do the same. While having a growth mindset is essential, we encounter many who are fixed in their thinking and ways of doing things.

Fixed mindsets are confident in what has been set, and no amount of effort or talent will change what is already known. Growth mindsets know continued practice and learning move us forward to better thinking, plans, and outcomes. Even with solid past results, constant learning and practice propels us forward.

For me, I’ve always aspired to be a lifelong learner, to “dig deeper” on almost any topic. Personally, the bigger challenge is “encouraging others to do the same” as Jon pointed out above.

In this post, Terence Brake of TMA World shares a growth mindset moment from Hidden Figures (movie version):

…Dorothy, who did the supervisor’s job in the “Colored Computer” room—without the appropriate title or pay—was fearful of the large IBM computer that had been installed. She was afraid of the computer’s impact on the jobs of her people. Instead of taking a hammer to the machine, she taught herself Fortran, and then taught it to the others in the pool. When the IBM mainframe took over from the human computers, she became official supervisor of the computer section, and took all of her people with her.

I could blame my reluctance to help others on feeling I don’t have enough time to train someone else, but honestly it’s more often a lack of confidence in my ability to teach them. I am reminded, though, of feedback I received from my staff at Healthy Kids. Almost everyone mentioned a process we had jointly developed (rather than me holed away in my office drafting something) as a favorite memory. They learned, they took ownership — it mattered to them to be asked and to be given an opportunity to grow.

In addition, a growth mindset is beneficial to all of us. Not just emotionally or learning-wise. As my Weaving Influence boss Becky Robinson wrote recently, “any time you can train someone else to become proficient at a task you typically do, you are creating margin for yourself in the future.”

Having a growth mindset helps us do more, for our intellect and for profitability. It’s a win-win.

Don’t Dumb Yourself Down

As book club wound down (well, that’s sort of a relative term — the “formal” book club wound down but many of us stayed long after the formal end to keep talking), I asked Dr. Caldwell to share the ONE thing she would tell today’s female students.

Her answer? DON’T DUMB YOURSELF DOWN.

So much truth to this, and I suspect we parents and supporters of young women *may* inadvertently facilitate this dumbing down without even knowing. How do you impress on a tween or teen girl that the real power is in embracing the subjects they love, even if they aren’t “cool” among their peers?

Sometimes there’s no fighting the pull of peer pressure, but we can support the young women in our lives and model how to have high aspirations, how to tackle subjects that appear difficult, how to confidently be the only girl (or minority, or both) in the room.

Here’s an interesting conundrum — when I started poking around the internet looking for great links about how girls should not “dumb themselves down,” almost everything I found was about how women shouldn’t “dumb themselves down” to get a man.

I think Dr. Caldwell meant something different, more fundamental, and more applicable to an 11-year old (although many of us adults would do well to remember the advice too). I think it was something more related to the advice Liz Ryan gave in Forbes to a job-searcher who wondered if she should dilute her educational background in order to be more appealing to employers who might be scared off by her higher education achievements:

Anybody who needs you to pretend to be less smart and capable than you are is not someone you can afford to work for.

As a practical matter, when you hide your flame in order to get hired, your mojo will leave you. Your mojo is the fuel source for your career and your life. You can’t afford to squander it!

“Mojo” is something that can be inadvertently snuffed out in a young girl’s psyche early in her life, and resurrecting it after she has stopped believing in herself is a Herculean task. Why not keep it alive and thriving from the beginning?

Read The Book, See The Movie

If you have been around my blog for long, you know I am a huge fan of NASA and, from a “women in tech” standpoint, consider hearing Former Deputy Administrator Dava Newman speak to be a pivotal personal moment. She made history by becoming Deputy Administrator of NASA. She made history partially thanks to women who took risks long before her, women whose lessons we in the general public are just now starting to appreciate ….. to learn “why” and not just “how,” to have a growth mindset, to not dumb themselves down.

Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, said it well:

Female Engineers

Editor’s Note: I asked Dr. Caldwell to elaborate a bit more on “how vs. why” and here is her response:

I’m glad people enjoyed the article. I made the comment about life in general, but specifically as engineers we go through the training (Physics, Calculus, etc.) to be able to determine the why of problems.

7 Takeaways from the 12 Days of Fitness Challenge

As I wrote in my guest post for the American Heart Association’s #BreakUpWithSalt initiative, about six in ten caregivers in a national survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving reported that their eating (63%) and exercising (58%) habits are worse than before. I am among those six in ten.

When I stopped running in early October because my rapid heart rate kept breaking through despite taking a beta blocker before exercising, I stopped other exercise activities too. The “reasons” mushroomed easily: once my son was able to drive himself, he was able to stay out after school finished, hanging out with his friends (or whatever). Going to an early morning class so that I could be home before my husband left for work involved an early wakeup that felt increasingly impossible to do. I was embarrassed about my weight gain.

Then the 12 Days of Fitness Challenge happened.

In December, BA Fitness posted on their Facebook page that there would be a “12 Days of Fitness” challenge. The challenge was set to begin the next day, so I had to make a quick decision regarding whether I was “in” or not. I decided! I was in! The basics: Do 12 classes within an abbreviated period of time (15 days). Don’t miss any classes you signed up for (or the clock would start over). In return? More fitness and a lovely custom workout towel (plus a chance to be entered in a drawing for free classes and other goodies.

Fitness Goals

Fast forward to the end. I *did* earn my towel (yay) and gathered a few insights along the way:

Why A Challenge Made a Difference

The Towel

Having done many efforts such as Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, I have always been *amazed* at how hard people will work to earn a tshirt that may cost $5 to make. How many hundreds and thousands of dollars they’ll raise. That was me with the reward towel. Granted, it was exclusive to participants of the challenge who met the 12-class minimum, but in the end it was “just a towel.” But I wanted it! Like Joe, the swag was calling my name!

Fitness GoalsThe Finite Time Line

Because the Challenge had a specific begin and end date, I had to fit my 12 classes in within a specified period of time. That short-circuited any “I’ll get to it eventually” thoughts in my head and made me overcome barriers I had been allowing to stop me from showing up.

Detailed, Transparent Updates

The challenge scoreboard was posted on Facebook at least once a day. Why did that matter? For starters, we could see each other’s progress? A perfect recipe for lots of support sharing (and a tiny quantity of good natured prods (as in, I’m getting up at 4:30 am to make the 5 am class — you can too, friend!)). Since the towels were limited to the first 25 people to complete the challenge, seeing a line of people ahead of us who were closer to hitting the 12-class mark than we were was motivation to step up our efforts and get our butts to class.

Accountability Matters

I had gotten out of touch with the fact that the best thing people and fitness lovers can do for one another is hold each other accountable. I stopped being on “active status” with my team (although my incredible coach still goes way above and beyond to track my workouts). I wasn’t racing so there was no “let’s get some runs in so we are prepared for the next 5K” type activity going on. When I knew my fellow challenge participants would be expecting me in class, and that my NOT going was stealing a spot from someone who needed it (it got pretty hard to find space in classes as the challenge proceeded), I showed up. 

Planning Ahead is Your Friend

Like I mentioned above, as the challenge progressed, it got harder and harder to find space in class. I missed an opportunity to check off one (or two, if I had been willing to do a double) class of my list on a premium Saturday when I actually could go, because I waited too late to sign up. If you have a goal, plan ahead in order to execute it.

Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone Is Good

Because I had to take whatever classes were available, I took some classes I would not have traditionally picked. I got to exercise different muscles (literally), meet new people, and explore exercise alternatives I would not have tried before.

Excuses Hurt Only Ourselves

After I had to get carted back to the start area a mile into a walked 5K in October, something in my willpower deflated. Years of consistent exercise (some of those years with rockingly consistent nutrition (some not so much) felt like a waste of time. I know they weren’t a waste of time, but I was feeling sorry for myself. I was afraid to work out in the event my tachycardia acted up, afraid I would “cause a problem” for the staff or fellow students at the studio if I had an episode, just AFRAID.

Thanks to the challenge, though, for all the morning classes I did as part of a challenge, I drank only decaf before class, took my beta blocker, tried not to feel self conscious about bedhead or wearing colors that didn’t match, and DID IT. If I felt like something was pushing me too hard, I took a break. It was hard to stop worrying about what others thought (lazy/out of shape/unmotivated) but it was an important reminder that not everyone knows our stories.

THE HAPPY ENDING

Yes, I got the towel. More importantly, I got the push I needed to look those excuses, the extra pounds, the logistical challenges, and the health issues in the face and recommit to taking care of myself.

Fitness Goals

My bedhead and I earned my towel after my 12th class, an Indorow class. Pictured here with David Griffin, instructor.

Looks like I am going to need a few MORE towels.

10 Lessons From Lumosity

In July 2014, when Tenley and I were in NYC, we were discussing how to get to Dylan’s Candy Bar, which is located at 3rd Avenue and 60th Street in NYC. Because we had to figure out where to get off of the bus, we had already discussed the cross street once while we were planning our day, within an hour of when we were discussing it again. I said “which cross street again?” She looked at me incredulously and said “sometimes I worry about you.” I said “I do too.”

Memory is a Muscle

As I wrote in a recent post for Weaving Influence, when I read the book Deep Work, I was reminded that the mind is like a muscle. There are things I can try to do to keep it in shape. (I mean …. I want to be able to find the candy stores in this world after all!). I signed up for a year’s worth of Lumosity and got started.

Brain health

Improving Memory

Lumosity is an online tool that helps people train their core cognitive abilities (great explanation of core cognitive abilities here).

The five core cognitive abilities Lumosity focuses on are speed, memory, attention, flexibility, and problem solving.

  • Speed – according to Cognifit, speed is “the time it takes a person to do a mental task” and is related to “the speed in which a person can understand and react to the information they receive.”
  • Memory – according to The Human Memory, memory is “our ability to encode, store, retain and subsequently recall information and past experiences in the human brain.”
  • Attention – Cognifit defines attention as “the cognitive process that allows us to concentrate on a stimuli or activity in order to process it more thoroughly later.”
  • Flexibility – flexibility, an executive function, is “the capacity for quickly switching to the appropriate mental mode,” explains Cognifit.
  • Problem Solving – another executive function, problem solving is “defining the problem in the right way to then generate solutions and pick the right one” according to Cognifit.

Lessons from Lumosity

As I have played the Lumosity games in an attempt to improve my cognitive abilities, I have improved my LPI (Lumosity Performance Index) from 624 to 1141 (yay!). Along the way, I have made the following observations:

Some Games Are Much More Likable Than Others

My least favorite game is Tidal Treasures, which exercises working memory. As the game progresses, you have to choose an item on a “beach” that you have not chosen before. It is the game that takes the longest to play and is so very hard to conquer (but I am experimenting with mind tricks to be better, which I guess is the point of it being an “exercise.”).

Although Lumosity gives me the option to change games when Tidal Treasures comes up, I don’t. This goes in the category of “you have to take on the big challenges to improve.”

You can’t get a perfect score every time.

After each game you are shown whether or not your score that time fit in the top five of your scores in that game. It is so tempting to keep retrying if it happens to be a day you didn’t score in the top five.

It’s short sighted to not just get on with your life when you can’t get perfection every time.

Things Go Better If You Take a Split Second to Get an Overview

One of the games, Train of Thought, addresses divided attention, the ability to simultaneously respond to multiple tasks or task demands. As you increase your level of play, there are more trains going more places, and some trains look very similar to other trains (like the green train that has a BLACK top, compared to the all-green train). I’ve learned to take a split second before re-routing tracks to try to figure out where all the stations are — it makes a difference.

It doesn’t work to start playing a game right away if you don’t take a moment to figure out what field you are on.

Don’t Make Things Harder on Yourself

In the game Speedpack, which exercises visualization, the ability to manipulate or imagine the interaction of objects in your mind, the player has to “move” a camera to a certain compartment of a suitcase and try to put it in a compartment that won’t be full once the suitcase is closed. It reminds me of how much I hated those “what shape will this paper be when it is folded?” kinds of exercises we had when we took the ASVAB back in high school (is the ASVAB still a thing?). Sometimes, I can sit there trying to figure out which compartment to put the camera in when there is a whole row empty that involves no hard decisions.

When an easy option presents itself, take it!

Some Distractions Have Nothing To Do With The Route You Should Take

In Pinball Recall, a working memory game, the goal is to figure out where a ball is going to go based on its starting point and various bumpers in the way. Newsflash: some of those bumpers can’t change the direction of your ball no matter what. They are just there to make things look more complicated than they are!

Don’t assume every barrier is actually going to get in your way.

Don’t Paralyze Yourself By Lack of Confidence

Every single boss I have ever had (that took the time and effort to evaluate me) has said “if only you were more confident in your decisions.” SIGHHHH. So true but trust me never has that been said to me that I then walked out of that office and proceeded to automatically exude more confidence. Lack of confidence is a pretty deeply ingrained challenge. Lumosity to the rescue! At least for the ten minutes I am playing every morning. Success at some games, especially the ones which work on speed, depend on quick reflexes. I can either just make the confidence choice or get a lower score because I questioned myself.

Confidence often pays off. 

Everything in Your Field of Vision DOES Matter Sometimes

The Eagle Eye game tests “field of view” – the “area over which you can absorb visual information without moving your eyes.” (Quotes from Lumosity.) There is a piece of information in the center of the screen (like a number) and a “bird” elsewhere on the screen. The player has to remember the center item while recalling where the bird was.

This game always feels like life itself – you have to remember what is at the center and often be able to take care of important items “on the side.”

We Are Not Always The Best Judges of Our Strengths

hate to admit this (and please don’t tell any future editing or otherwise communications-based clients) but “Word Bubbles Rising” is not (give me just a moment here ….) the game at which I score the best. It is a flexibility game and I score best at problem solving games. Hmmm.

In the same way that a 360 degree evaluation in the workplace gives you insight you don’t expect, opening yourself up to an evaluation of your brain capacity strengths and weaknesses can surprise you.

Mood and Sleep Matter

Every time I start playing, Lumosity asks first what kind of mood I am in and how much sleep I got. Chronic stress can create long-lasting brain changes and depression can contribute to memory problems (uh-oh). Sleep deprivation can lead to problems with memory, concentration, optimism (gasp!), sociability, creativity, and innovation. I can see why Lumosity asks, and having to “report in” every morning is making me think about how I can improve my mood and enhance my sleep hygiene.

Mental Fitness Is a Gift

I’ve been worried ever since I read Still Alice about early brain deterioration. Living with an in-law with short-term memory disorder leads me to be terrified, daily, of what the future might hold. Playing Lumosity may not be the key to staying supple in the brain forever, but hopefully it’s a step in the right direction.

Just like exercise may keep our physical bodies stronger, our brains deserve a chance too.

4 Good Luck Foods to Welcome 2017

There are not that many things I am superstitious about. The superstitions I do hold, however, maintain a powerful grip on me, and although my outward observance of them may be shrouded in me saying “what could it hurt to [insert fulfillment of superstition here]”? but my inner self is screaming “please please let this one be more than a superstition!”.

The traditional southern New Year’s Day meal, for example. Today I will travel to my hometown to share the traditional New Year’s foods. When I haven’t been able to go to Lake Butler, I’ve always visited a local restaurant for the necessary “good luck foods.”

A Traditional Southern Good Luck Meal

Although I’ve read that the tradition is pork, black eyed peas, and greens, the pork part has always been sort of an optional part of the good luck triad for me.

But let’s give it its due.

PORK

Here’s Southern Living’s take on the role of pork:

The more pork and ham in your meal, the more luck you will have. Because of the amount of fat in pork, it is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Some people also say that because a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground while moving forward, eating pork on New Year’s signifies progress and moving forward. So don’t just use ham hock and fatback to flavor your veggies; eat a baked ham or pork chops as a main dish.

My parents have always insisted on seasoning the New Year’s greens with pork (hog jowl to be specific) but having pork as the meat has never felt that critical to me.

Moving forward, though, sounds like an intention I can definitely embrace, so my snout is now engaged with this idea!

GREENS

I did not appreciate greens (turnips, collards, etc.) as a kid. I really started to like them during my teenage eating disorder phase, when anything with minimal calories was attractive because it was something I could put in my mouth (this was also my tab and carrots phase …).

Once I started liking greens, I really liked greens. That affinity has lasted long beyond the point at which I was looking for zero calorie foods.

I think one component of my love for greens is understanding how much work they involve. It takes a LOT of greens to turn into a yummy bowl of greens deliciousness. They have to be picked, washed, prepped. It’s a process. I’ve seen my mom do it countless times — I’ve heard her excitement when she mentioned how a relative unexpectedly left a bag of greens at the front door. Greens are affection in the south, and a delicious affection it is (especially if you add hot sauce — the kind where peppers have soaked in vinegar). YUM.

Anyway, what greens are supposed to represent is prosperity (green, like money…). The truest prosperity representative is apparently cabbage, but all the southerners I know do collards. This piece describes the cabbage/collards evolution in detail.

I’ve been alive 52 years and can’t say I’ve ever had a positive financial development and said this must be because I ate greens on January 1 but I’m all for giving fate any assist it needs in bringing more monetary green into my life!

BLACK-EYED PEAS

Black-eyed peas are a must for New Year’s Day as well. As this article explains, black-eyed peas represent coins whereas greens represent paper money.

Black-eyed peas also take me back to so many hours spent on the porch of my maternal grandparents, shelling peas. Back then, I didn’t see the point, but a lot more was exposed than delicious peas as we sat around freeing the peas from their hulls. It was a time for telling stories, intergenerationally. Shelling the peas also gave us an appreciation for the work that goes into the food we eat.

CORNBREAD

The more I read articles about traditional southern New Year’s food, the more I knew I needed to include cornbread. However, cornbread doesn’t touch a sentimental or superstitious cord for me.

Apparently, cornbread represents gold.

Therefore, why have I been ignoring you, cornbread? Welcome to my New Year’s Day plate!

Financial Prosperity is Great, But Emotional and Health Prosperity is Even Better

I would love for the pork, the greens, the collards, and the cornbread to transform themselves into more income and less debt for 2017. We are facing big decisions as my 403B dwindles, another child graduates from high school, and my father in law’s health declines.

But honestly, I crave continued abundance in the quality of friendships I am lucky to have. I would love to see the people I care about be free of cancer, chronic health issues, and mental health challenges that no amount of money will fix. I want to be rich in courage: the courage to more confidently state what I need, in my marriage, in my professional life, to my own deepest self.

I suppose the start of all of that begins when I pick up my fork at lunch tomorrow … and dig into that pork, those greens, the black-eyed peas, and the cornbread.

What could it hurt to try?

Holiday Traditions

New Year’s Day 2016 – New Times Country Buffet

Grateful Challenge 2016

Note: This post contains affiliate links. I will receive compensation for books you purchase through these links. 

Personal Gratitude

For the fourth consecutive year, Gini Dietrich and Spin Sucks have hosted the Grateful Challenge. While the base model is “try to write down everything you’re grateful for and get to 99 items in ten minutes” (as I did in 2014 and 2015), Gini’s 2016 version deviated a bit from that plan and so will mine (I mean, come ON, has 2016 complied with “predictable” in any way whatsoever?). While it will be utterly impossible for me to top Gini’s #10, gratitude is not a competition and I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on (and share) the places, people, values, and experiences that made the year unique.

Note, the only way this list resembles the “write down as many things as you can in 10 minutes” model in any way is the fact that they are not in any particular order. These are the fifteen items that came to mind, in the order they popped into my head.

My Impromptu Trip to NYC in June

I knew that my friend Mary Jane, with whom I did the 2015 New York City Half Marathon for Team in Training, planned to do the NYC 10K Mini in June 2016, but never planned to join. I had my sights set on doing a Disney race with her in early January 2017.

Less than a week before the 10K Mini, I learned that she would not be doing the Disney race in 2017 because she would be undergoing a stem cell transplant related to her Multiple Myeloma iin Fall 2016. Five days before the 10K race, when we were messaging each other, she said, “come do the 10K. You have a place to stay.” Long story short, I bought a plane ticket, finished up all my work for Weaving Influence, registered for the race,and …….. became an unofficial part of Mary Jane’s team at the New York Mini on June 11.

Any day in NYC is a happy day for me. So grateful that my family made the sacrifice financially for me to fly to NYC on virtually zero notice, that Mary Jane and her family welcomed me with open arms, and that I had an unexpected four days in my happy place. It truly did make me happy. So happy.

Personal Gratitude

Mary Jane, Me, Mary Miner (we all worked together at Fordham University)

Our Michigan Trip in July

My husband, Wayne, had a class reunion in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in July. He and my son drove to Michigan, with stops along the way at places like the Corvette Factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, Chicago, and Upstate Michigan. I got my father-in-law settled in respite care at an assisted living facility for eight days and flew up to meet them for part of the trip.

I *love* traveling and enjoyed this opportunity to reconnect with family and friends in Michigan, to be part of the class reunion, to take in a Tigers game, and to visit Greenfield Village in Detroit.

As grateful as I am for the travel, having my father-in-law completely dealt with by someone else for eight days was also BIG. I swear as much as I loved the travel, I loved having 24 hours in the house to myself and being able to get all the carpets cleaned before I picked him up. 

Personal Gratitude

At a Tigers Game on 7/17/16.

Journey to Mars NASA Social

On August 17 and 18, I participated in a NASA Social in New Orleans and Mississippi. The social was all about the Journey to Mars. This was my third NASA Social and my first to take place at a space center besides Kennedy Space Center. I loved learning about a new (to me) space center and who doesn’t love an opportunity to go to New Orleans?

So many things about this trip were highlights. The learning about NASA was excellent (including seeing a test firing of one of the engines that will be part of powering the journey to Mars), the food was fantastic, and the opportunity to reunite with my best friend from childhood was such a treat for my heart!

Personal Gratitude

Soooo grateful to spend time with Paula!

Personal Gratitude

At the Aerojet Rocketdyne Facility with one of the engines to be used to propel the Journey to Mars.

Personal Gratitude

Jonathan had never had beignets before (!) so we had to remedy that.

I’m grateful for New Orleans, a city that has overcome so much, for the friends and food there, and for the fact that NASA and its contractors put really big components together there so I had an opportunity to go!!

Harry Was Wrong

Maybe if I was a guy writing this …. I wouldn’t write this. But I believe Harry was wrong when he told Sally men can’t be friends with women because they only have one thing on their mind. It takes respect and discipline to be friends when life could have taken two people other places, but who better to have as a friend than someone who had chosen to respect your choices and still share generously in the journey of life?

Personal Gratitude

My friend and I shared a day visiting my childhood home and elementary school in January.

I’m grateful for another year of a friendship that proves Harry wrong. 

Family, Together

It seemed like time flew between my niece Jessica’s announcement that she and Eric were engaged and the day we were scurrying around, with two men in the house trying to figure out tuxedo pieces, and Tenley and me doing hair and makeup as we prepared to step into long dresses (while getting my father-in-law into a suit). But November 12, 2016 dawned sunny and perfect, and although I can’t say “perfect” often describes the ins and outs that are part of being a family, for a few moments in that day, we were reminded that more often than not we continue to make an effort to be perfectly united.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for Wayne (husband), Tenley, and Wayne (son) (and Wayne (father-in-law)).

Flexible Work

Because someone has to be home with my father-in-law, I am grateful that I have flexible work which contributes to the family bottom line. It’s not just the fact that it’s flexible work, though, it’s the fact that Weaving Influence has core values (of which flexibility is one) and strives to live those values daily.

Personal Gratitude

With Whitney Heins, Becky Robinson, Jennifer Kahnweiler, Christy Kirk, and Kylah Frazier, Weaving Influence Team Members and Supporter. July 2016

I am grateful to be able to work and provide care for my father-in-law simultaneously.

Girl Scout Cookies, Friendship, and Advocacy (Not in that Order)

I have been involved with Shot at Life since 2013, and in addition to the rewarding work of advocacy on behalf of children around the world who are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, I have made the most wonderful friends.

I also may or may not have been part of a scheme to hide girl scout cookies behind a dumpster at the US Capitol when security would not allow us to bring them in. I won’t say more, but just know there are girl scout cookies being consumed in the picture below and this picture was taken AFTER the Capitol Contraband Cookie Caper.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful to know smart, caring women (and men) who are doing their part to make the world a better place. I am, of course, grateful for Thin Mints but I figure that goes without saying!

Stumbling Blocks on Fitness Road

Wow, was I ever optimistic way back in 2015 when I thought I could keep running, albeit more slowly, as long as I took my beta blockers before I ran. Without looking it up, I can’t tell you what day I stopped running (for now) but having to be taken back to the finish line of a recent 5K by a golf cart instead of my own two feet was a decision point for me.

Personal Gratitude

At the Stop the Violence 5K, BEFORE the race. Turns out Harper (the dog) and I each had our own struggles that day.

Still, I am grateful for the running community, that medical science (hopefully) will continue to find new answers to challenges like mine, and for the young man I run (walk) for, Gareth, who motivates me to keep moving.  

Reading

I love reading and have enjoyed some fantastic books this year. It would take an entire blog post to discuss favorites but I’ll chose two. A book I enjoyed on paper was The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I was motivated to pick it up because I was at the Detroit Airport, needed something to read, and had just seen the Wright Brothers home and shop when I had visited Deerfield Village.

On audio, it’s so difficult to choose. I need to give a shout out to Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Of all the books I have read this year, it’s among the top five at motivating and encouraging me.

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for reading, for its power to unlock my imagination and ignite my spirit. 

My Parents

My parents have gotten the short end of the gratitude stick from me many times over the decades, but they have responded with grace and generosity. I am beyond appreciative.

I don’t have a picture of the three of us together from this year to share, but I am grateful.

Blogging

Oh blogging, how has it been seven years already? I pulled up a post from 2009 today and flinched a little bit seeing the long unbroken paragraphs, the image I may have pulled off of Google images (that I replaced!), the lack of a meta description, and other signs that I really didn’t know what I was doing back then (not that I know now!). But blogging has given me such a fertile outlet, has connected me to so many incredible people, and has provided opportunities to earn additional income. Thanks, blogging.

I am grateful for blogging, and especially grateful to everyone who reads my blog, comments on it, and shares.

Toastmasters

It has been a fun year at Toastmasters, and I am happy to have closed it out with an opportunity to compete in the District Evaluation Contest and the District Humorous Speech Contest. Coming in 2nd in the evaluation contest was a welcome surprise. Not placing in the humorous speech contest was a humbling experience that inspired me to keep on trying. Now life needs to hand me something hilarious to discuss! (I should probably be careful what I ask for).

Personal Gratitude

I am grateful for the opportunity to learn about speaking, evaluating, and running meetings from Toastmasters.

Eldercare

Eldercare is not easy. I imagine when the perspective is reversed, being the elder isn’t a walk in the park either. I have no rosy “this situation is teaching me lessons I need” kind of takeaway here (although I do believe that is true). But dad is our patriarch on the Kiger side and I am glad to be able to do my part.

I am grateful that despite the many challenges, we have so far figured out a way to care for dad at home and (hopefully) provide him a place where he knows he is cared for.

Interacting With the Most Incredible People

So many people come to mind who are on my “grateful list” for this year. Many of them ended up in my life through blogging, advocacy, or both. I have to conduct phone calls wherever I can since the main tv in our house is usually on VERY LOUD TENNIS, and I will not soon forget sitting on the floor of my bedroom. a couple of sheets of paper in my hand, talking to Mark S. King for our collaboration on a CDC-related blog about encouraging people to get tested for HIV.

It’s too long of a story for this blog, but I believe it is possible that Representative Gwen Graham would go to Costco with me, as we discussed when we met about Shot at Life. I may have been in an office in Washington, D.C., but it felt very much like I was on a front porch in North Florida. She has a gift.

Personal Gratitude

Visiting Rep. Gwen Graham in Washington, DC

Be open to meeting new people and hearing their stories; you will be grateful for what you learn.

Silence

I know ….. silence? I think often of the silent retreat I did in March. It was only six hours but those six hours were probably my longest unplugged period in a while. It was a different experience, one which made me question whether or not I really want to do a multi-day silent retreat somewhere (I do…), but it was a reminder that it’s easy to give in to the world’s distractions and lose touch with the places, people, values, and experiences that really matter.

Personal Gratitude

For the highlights of 2016 I’ve mentioned here, and for the ability to gather more moments in the year to come, I am grateful. 

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All About Audiobooks

Note: This post contains affiliate links to some of the products mentioned. If you purchase a book through that link, I will receive compensation.

The first time I really remember adding audiobooks to my listening habits was years ago (I think it was 2005) when I was returning from dropping Tenley off at gymnastics camp in Athens, GA. Back then, it was not uncommon for me to listen to audiobooks on cassette. Over the eleven years since then, I’ve migrated from listening on CD, to listening to them on my old iPod, to finally listening to them through the Audible App on my phone. There’s usually still a cassette involved, as I use an adapter to send the sound through my car’s audio. (Right now I have a rental which routes it through a USB and I feel all techie when that happens!). The first book I prominently remember reading via audio was Life of Pi. I’ve lost count of how many there have been since then. Hundreds?

Audiobooks Are Big Business

Just how “big” are they?

According to the Pew Research Center, 14% of Americans have read an audiobook in the past year.

The Wall Street Journal says audiobooks are the “fastest-growing format in the book business today,” citing the Audio Publishers Association as stating “sales in the U.S. and Canada jumped 21% in 2015 from the previous year.” I can say I’m certainly doing my part to make that true.

For more on the history of audiobooks, this On Point show is really interesting.

That Voice In My EarAudiobook Readers

This post is partially inspired by a conversation I was having with other reading fanatics. Some of us had read Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale in a traditional format, and I had read it via audiobook. I had shared how much I loved narrator Amy Landon’s voice, how I liked it so much I could listen to her read the phone book. That led to a discussion of other narrators we love (or don’t love….).

Another of my favorites is Cassandra Campbell. She has narrated many notable audiobooks, including being part of the ensemble narrating The Help, but it was her narration of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that really blew me away. Just the way she said “culture” (which is said OFTEN in that book) was worthy of “I could listen to her read the phone book” status.

I also typically enjoy it when authors read their own memoirs. Memorable books in this category include Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas, The Diva Rules by Michelle Visage (visit my blogs about this book here and here), Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, Troublemaker by Leah Remini, and Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew.

I also credit Jenna Bush Hager’s reading of Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope with giving me a deeper picture of her as an individual, and by extension, her family. She has some VERY particular pronunciations of things (like saying “buddon” instead of “button” but for that one book it worked).

Narrating an audiobook is a skill (and art), for sure, as demonstrated here by Amy Landon:

What Is It About Voices?

Since I don’t plan (right now) to post about it separately, allow me to take a slight detour on the topic of voices in general.

I wonder what it is about voices that lead us to conclude they are “pleasant” or “unpleasant.” As audiobook readers who frequently pay discretionary income for books (there are some sources of free audiobooks out there I must mention), we certainly have a right to voice our preferences.

For my mother-in-law, who was blind, and listened to many of her books as voiced through the impersonal generic narration of the books on tape she received from a talking books service for the visually impaired, I’m pretty sure she would have agreed that variety is GOOD (as technology improved, she was able to listen to audiobooks with a variety of narrators. I really regret that she didn’t live long enough to take advantage of easily clicking on a book she really loved, with narration she also really loved. She was so close with the ownership of an iPhone. SO. CLOSE.)

It’s quite impossible for me to write about voices, though, without thinking about NPR’s underwriting-credit announcer challenges. I have to admit I can’t remember what Frank Tavares, who did it for years, sounded like, but I vividly remember the uproar when Sabrina Farhi took over and illuminated vocal fry’s moment in the spotlight. I’ve always felt a little sorry for her, even though I, too, was not a huge fan. I never criticized her via social media, but I certainly sent her successor, Jessica Hansen, a congratulatory note praising her work. Jessica Hansen has another voice I love.

Is it Reading or Listening?

I’ve often heard the debate: is consumption of an audiobook reading or listening?

That’s easy: IT IS READING.

Although I feel strongly that it is reading, I can understand why book lovers ask if consuming an audiobook is “really reading.” Forbes takes a stab at answering the question here, asserting that “reading and listening are strikingly similar cognitive processes.” (It’s a fascinating article; I encourage you to click through and read it.)

While I am somewhat alarmed at my diminishing focus on reading paper books, I cling to the idea that listening is still reading. Audiobooks have kept me in love with reading and expanded my exposure to ideas, people, and concepts while pushing my imagination to new horizons.

To that, I say, turn the page; click the button for the next chapter. Whatever you do, JUST KEEP READING.

Audiobook Readers

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Heart on the Run

It’s my heart that’s on the run. Unfortunately, my heart is an overachiever when it comes to being fast, and that’s creating a problem.

I don’t know when my trek down tachycardia trail really started, but data-wise the first time I noted a high heart rate in my workout log was February 16, 2013, when I wrote off the much-higher-than-usual high heart rate I experienced in the last mile of the Flash 12K as a fluke.

Cardiac Issues

Though the ensuing episodes of high heart rate, the cardiologist visit (when I was initially cleared), the blog post about the 2014 Turkey Trot (after which Shannon Sullivan, Mary Jean Yon, and David Yon insisted I seek other answers), the electrophysiologist visit, the implantable loop recorder, the electrophysiology study, and the year of attempting to manage my symptoms with a beta blocker (because an ablation was contraindicated), I kept identifying myself as a runner, kept saying, “it’s a pain but as long as it’s confined to my running,” I just need to make adjustments.

It was when I was “just” walking a 5K on October 2 that I hit a physical and emotional wall on this trail, and I haven’t figured out a way around it.

Cardiac Issues

At the Stop the Violence 5K, BEFORE the race. Turns out Harper (the dog) and I each had our own struggles that day.

Besides the actual facts of what occurred over the hour which changed everything for me, my hesitancy to ask for help makes me want to kick myself in my OWN butt. I had not taken a beta blocker before the race because I’ve never needed one in a “walk” situation before. When my HR goes up precipitously, it does so with no warning. When it happened that day, I tried to stay calm, continuing to walk and do vagal maneuvers. I was passed by one couple who said “do you need help? And made some reference to one of them being qualified to help if I was having a problem.” Turned them down. I sat down on the curb (side note: I hate sitting down during races. I especially hate sitting down within sight of the finish line.)

I decided to walk back to the start area instead of trying to finish the 3.1 mile route. I walked past a man washing his car and made light conversation about his dog who was barking from the window rather than explaining I may be having a health issue. I was in a neighborhood where I know several people who probably would have come to help me if I had asked. During the attempt to walk back to the start area, my HR increased to an unhealthy rate again. I sat down on the curb, again. Throughout, I was texting my husband, explaining what was going on. I needed someone to be in the know.

I was participating in the race as part of a team, but I didn’t have anyone’s cell phone numbers I took my smartphone out and sent a message to the team’s event page on Facebook and one to our captain via PM. I explained that they should take their time (again, I might could have mentioned that I was possibly having a health crisis) but that I was going to need someone to pick me up. Eventually the race organizers sent a volunteer in a golf cart to come pick me up. Arriving at the finish line as a passenger in a golf cart rather than crossing it under my own power was so humbling (and, honestly, embarrassing).

Cardiac Issues

I didn’t share this publicly on 10/2, but this is the pic I sent my coach and team as I waited on my golf cart rescue chariot.

Here’s where things stand for me at this point:

This Is Not Just About Running Anymore

It was one thing to change my approach to running as the tachycardia issue got worse. Now that it’s affecting walking, the situation has gotten more serious as it impacts a proportionally larger part of my life. I’ve always had a sort of “I’m not fast but I can hang with pretty much anything endurance-wise” approach but now I find myself evaluating EVERY activity, not just the ones that are labeled as “exercise,” on its likelihood to be affected by my issue. When I was at a conference at Disney recently, my companions and I were running late to get to a dinner reservation in EPCOT because of some transportation changes (the Monorail to EPCOT was not running). We were under the gun to get to the restaurant before our reservation was cancelled and my credit card was charged. It’s a pretty long way from the admission gates of EPCOT to “Japan,” and I was praying I could keep up with their brisk pace, and popping a beta blocker hoping that would help me hang with them (it worked out fine).

I need to be able to walk a mile without stopping, both for exercise and because my life just involves a lot of “going.” 

Being Stubborn About Doing Things on My Own Can Be Dangerous

The double-pronged issue of a) loving doing things solo and b) being hesitant to ask for help is an issue that could just be classified as “that’s how I am” but now it impacts my health and survival. I’m grieving the limitations I feel now — I am not going to go out and spend an hour isolated on the Greenway — who would find me if I passed out? And although I would advise anyone in my circle to ask for help if they need it (and hopefully I would be the first to offer if they asked), I hate imposing. This is not an easy change to get used to.

We need each other. My biggest adversary here is myself, and I need to reach some detente with me.

The Exercise/Fatigue/Caffeine Cycle

Maybe none of this would be an issue if I had followed the cardiologist’s advice more than ten years ago and stopped caffeine altogether. I have tried a few runs without caffeine and still experienced problems, so I can’t say it’s the caffeine. But I am in a cycle (that I’ve almost always been in) of dealing with fatigue. I think some of it is low blood pressure — I’ve always struggled to stay awake … in meetings, singing in the choir (i.e., facing the congregation as a minister gives the message and dozing….THAT’S special). Lately I’ve had friends I’m conversing with say “you’re clearly tired” as I’m simply trying to stay with a conversation. Driving pretty much anywhere requires a cold brisk water, soda, or other beverage to keep me alert. One of the things I love about working from home is the ability to take a ten minute micronap when the fatigue hits — it makes all the difference and doing it in the privacy of my home doesn’t bring with it the indignity of getting drowsy in public.

If I don’t drink caffeine (or find some other way to not get drowsy/fatigued), my professional and personal life are impacted. I guess I should make a big summarizing point in this particular italicized sentence but: I love and need coffee and would find it almost impossible to break up with it. That is all!

The Gray Areas In Dealing With Cardiac Issues Are Vexing

It is irritating and a little humiliating to try to explain a health issue others can’t see. If I had a cast on my leg or some other outwardly obvious sign that I am working through something, that would be different, but as it is, many people start every conversation with “the usual”: “So when’s your next race?” “What are you training for?” Etc. Etc. Etc. My social  network is largely comprised of runners. My social media content is liberally filled with running. The first place I head when I walk into a store is the fitness/running section.

When Running Is Bad for Your Health

Although this post has been percolating in my head (I had lots of time to think about it sitting on that curb in Southwood waiting for the golf cart (sigh)), I hesitated because I do not want it to be a whining, “poor me” post. I guess in a way it’s an attempt to put down in words the fumbling around I do when conversing about this when the zillionth person says “when’s your next race?”

I feel more keenly aware of the fact that I’ve spent years throwing out platitudes to other injured/ill runner friends: “you’ll get back to it,” “every step matters,” “people understand.” I feel aware of the challenge my father in law must feel when he is feeling faint and I’m screaming at him “PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON YOUR LEGS” because honestly, there was a moment there at Southwood on October 2 when the 1 mile back to the start line might as well have been 10,000 miles. No amount of willpower on my part would overcome the fact that my heart was done. with. ambulating. for. that. hour. DONE.

It’s a pain when well-meaning relatives say things like “well now that you’re not running but eating like a runner, there’s a weight issue.” (Yes, there is. I weigh more now than I did at the max of either of my pregnancies and my food consumption, especially the stress eating, really needs to be separated out (by me) from my runner persona.) It’s a process.

The Finish Line

This is not a post with a nice neat ending.

I guess my best advice right now is …..if your health enables you to fully engage in what you love for exercise and an outlet, do it and don’t take it for granted. If someone in your circle drops off the radar, give them an opportunity to try to process it and know that they themselves may not really be capable of explaining it or responding to their personal challenges, but they do still need you.

Their heart may still be putting in the miles even if their race reports don’t show it.

Cardiac Issues

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Let The Magic Begin!

“I’ve never taken you for much of a Disney person.”

This is what my husband said to me tonight as I was explaining how sad I was that today’s visit to the Magic Kingdom was probably the last one I will be able to take before my annual pass expires on November 29.

It’s not that I’ve always been “much of a Disney person” and it’s not that I’ll ever be someone who visits monthly, nor will I ever have the expertise or sufficient passion to be a Disney-centered blogger like A Disney Mom’s Thoughts.

But my relationship with Disney has deepened over this year, and here are a few thoughts on why:

Candlelight Processional, November 2015

Last November, Tenley was planning to visit Disney with friends. On a quick whim, she said, “why don’t you come down for the Candlelight Processional for your birthday?” It was the need to purchase admission to EPCOT for the processional that led to my first ever Annual Pass purchase. (I knew Tenley would be living in Orlando during her College Program January – May of 2016, so it was a pretty safe bet I would be back down.)

There were many great firsts (to me) that trip. First stay at the Beach Club. First Candlelight Processional (with a phenomenal Gary Sinise). First time wearing a “Happy Birthday” button through the parks and being treated like royalty just because I had survived another year on Earth.

Remembering Disney World

Becoming a Disney College Program Parent

What really drove my newfound interest in and love of Disney was the fact that I dug deeper into all things Disney as Tenley prepared to begin her tenure as a participant in the Disney College Program. I’ve never pretended Disney is my happy place the same way it is for her (for the record, New York City is my happy place), but it’s just my nature to try to understand a place that means that much to my child (well, okay, maybe it’s stalkerish but moms just want to know right?!).

When I went to Disney in January to help Tenley move in, I had more firsts. First stay at a Value Resort (Pop Century). First visit to Animal Kingdom. First of the “bigger” kid good-byes (I knew I wouldn’t be seeing her until April).

Remembering Disney World

Customer Service Matters

One thing that has really grown on me over this year is the Disney attention to guest services. It’s certainly not always perfect, but having seen Tenley go through Disney training, having read a lot more about Disney’s 4 C’s of great guest experiences, and having had the opportunity to be treated to magical moments myself, my customer-service heart is just pleased that a company still cares and places a value on excellent service.

I always try to single out at least one cast member who provided fantastic guest service and let Disney know so that the cast member can be recognized. This doesn’t happen every trip (it didn’t happen on the trip I just completed, for example). But it’s a reminder that you should have to work hard and be exceptional to earn recognition.

Having had a loved one work as a cast member, I am exponentially more sensitive to the need to be kind to cast members. I don’t know what percentage of them are College Program participants, but in the back of my mind is always the idea that this cast member, especially if they are a college program participant, may be far from home, may be doing their first real “big” job, probably dreamed of working at Disney all their life. I know the magical awesome guest moments outweigh the bad, but I’ve heard enough stories of guests who are unreasonable and downright abusive that I want to do my small part to outweigh some of that.

Family Time

By the time our April family visit rolled around, we were all excited to be together. This was my first stay at Riverside, a lovely moderate Disney resort.

We ate, we enjoyed the Flower and Garden Festival (despite the rain!). Together we experienced the final “Dream Along With Mickey” show (if you want to see a Disney character look “sad,” watch them try to work through their nostalgia as they perform the last rendition of a beloved show).

Remembering Disney World

Joy, Sadness, and May’s Visit

Right before Tenley’s College Program ended, she suggested I visit one more time (twist. my. arm!). This was a quick visit, but it gave us an opportunity to experience a little more park time and catch up with some friends who were visiting from various areas of Florida. This was a shoestring visit, but Tenley and I agreed it was more important to be frugal with lodgings, so I stayed at the Clarion Lake Buena Vista which was definitely suitable and offered a generous cast member discount.

Although this visit was almost an afterthought planning-wise, it ended up having a special place in my heart because of the loss of Will, a College Program participant, and the way the College Program parents came together in shared sadness, reminded of what matters most.

Remembering Disney World

Being Able to Come and Go Without Having to Pack All the Magic Into One Day

The best perk of having an Annual Pass was, to me, being able to just “drop in” on a park. When I see guests trying to squeeze an entire day’s worth of attractions, food, photos, and memories into one single trip, I feel sorry for them. I have been able to take in the parks in bite-sized pieces. That first visit, when I went to the Candlelight Processional, my pass paid for itself by the time I stopped by Hollywood Studios later that evening (and saw the Osborne Family Lights for their last year), and Magic Kingdom the next morning.

Bite-sized magic tastes just as sweet on memory’s taste buds as do super-sized helpings. Sometimes even better.

Beginnings Count

Among the Disney-isms I have discovered, including the Hubgrass (my favorite!), the Hidden Mickeys, and all kinds of little traditions, I realized that I had never been to the Park Opening Ceremony at the Magic Kingdom (also known as Rope Drop).

When I participated in the Type A Parent conference at Disney World this past week, I arranged my arrival so that I would be at the park in time for Rope Drop on the first day. It helped that the conference was at the Contemporary so I could easily walk to the Magic Kingdom.

I am not sure what it is about Rope Drop, a happy start-of-day ceremony, that brings tears to my eyes, but I was fighting back sentimental tears as the train pulled into the station with Mickey and the family of the day. I loved the final line of the ceremony:

LET THE MEMORIES BEGIN!

I realize that when I walked away from the Magic Kingdom today, it probably wasn’t the last time ever. I know I should just be grateful for all of the memories I have made this year and the time with family, friends, and pixie-dusted adventures.

I guess the memories which began last November will never really leave me.

Like this sweet little girl I saw Wednesday, when I need a break from reality, I’ll just get up on my tiptoes, think about a distant castle, and allow my heart to smile while expecting something happy to be on its way.

Remembering Disney World

Thanks, Disney. It’s been a great year.

Remembering Disney World

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