Tuesday, September 22, 2015

One Random Angel has moved...

Dear Readers,

If you've been following this page, thank you so much! And I wanted to let you know that I will no longer be posting new material here. I have a new website with tabs! Check it out... Click here to go to new website. 

Thank you,


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Be still and blow bubbles...

Here's an adage I've always liked:
Don't just do something, stand there.
Stand in the surf, or sit on a rock, or lay your
body across the earthy loam…and be quiet.
Very quiet.
Do you hear it? That still small voice, the
echo of your soul, reverberating with the call
to your own true self to emerge...
                                                                   -Reverend Jan Taddeo

Don't just do something, stand there. What profound advice. In the midst of all our busy lives, it's sometimes difficult to just be. To be present to the miracles around us and hear our own heart beat...

So today I'd like to share with you the secret magic of bubbles...

I own The Little Gym of Huntsville where I teach Parent/Child classes. In every class, we have bubble time. And bubble time is magical. Every single day in every single class. You blow bubbles, and toddlers and babies stop everything else they are doing and they watch the bubbles. Every time. And if a child is crying before I start blowing the bubbles, the tears stop almost immediately when the bubbles start. And they are present. Present in that magical moment. And I assure you they are not preoccupied that they were hungry or wet or anything else possibly minutes before. Nor are they worried that maybe later they will be hungry or wet. They just enjoy the bubbles.

Maybe sometimes we need to slow down and enjoy some metaphorical bubbles. Or maybe literal ones. Accept an invitation to enjoy a moment where we are not preoccupied with past grievances or worried about future fears. Where we can just be present to the things floating right in front of us.

Slowing down enough to be present to these metaphorical bubbles can be hard. I know. Because in the words of Emily Dickinson, I dwell in possibility. I seek diversity for the sake of diversity. I have a need to learn new things. This leads me to accept a lot of invitations. Which leads me into a lot of busyness sometimes. I would imagine I'm not alone in this tendency in today's busy world... 

But to serve the world, we sometimes need to slow down and not be distracted by so much of it. We need to focus on smaller things in front of us and be present in a way that allows us to go within our selves to hear that still small voice of our true self. I suggest starting with blowing bubbles. As you watch them float on by, let go of all other thoughts, be still, and listen to your own heart... So advises this one random angel... 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Finding your voice- Or Lessons I've Learned from Isabella

I've been working with children since I was old enough to babysit. Been teaching children in some capacity for the last 23 years. So I don't want to say I've seen it all, but I will say not much surprises me. And I generally think I'm pretty good at reading kids and meeting them where they are and bonding with them from there. Or at least I thought that until this past year when a creative, loud, happy child named Isabella surprised me and taught me a new lesson that will help me now to be a better teacher- and maybe even a better person.

Let me back up- when I first began teaching Isabella, then 2 years old, about a year ago in one of my parent/child gymnastic classes, I did not see her at all as creative, loud, or happy. In fact, I saw her as timid, introverted and nervous. She hid most of the class behind her dad's legs. And her kind, supportive parents, along with her kind, well-meaning teacher would encourage her to try skills and push her to participate. But if I'm honest, she didn't really ever seem to enjoy the class in those days. But I thought she needed time- time to get to know me, time to be comfortable in the environment, and time to just watch and observe before doing.

And then we started a new Kindermusik program at my gym this past January. And Isabella and her mom joined my very first class. I could see the first day that Isabella was more comfortable. From day one she participated fully in the class. Without any pushing or encouraging. And as the weeks went on, Isabella became louder and louder in her participation. In a fantastic way! She modeled for the other kids all the imaginative play involved in that program. She was the first to vocalize and sing along. She really transformed into a leader before my very eyes. One week early on we were dancing with scarves to classical music- Isabella stood off to the side and sang "Let It Go" as loudly as she could over the music. It was glorious. And not the behavior of a timid, introverted child.

And as amazing as watching her come out of her shell in music class was, here is the part that really blew me away- as soon as she found her voice in the music class, the way she participated in the gym class also changed! She stepped out from behind her dad's legs and into the center of the circle. And she met me in the gym class with the same imaginative spirit that we used in music class. In our opening circle for example, instead of burying her head in her dad's chest when I'd ask her for her name, she began to give me a different name each week for what I should call her and she'd pretend to be that person (usually a princess). And one day during our exploration time, she said to me, "I'm Ms Angel and you are Isabella- you follow me." And she led me around equipment that a few months earlier I couldn't even get her to go near.

And here is the lesson I've learned- Isabella didn't need more time or understanding from me. She needed a change in environment. She needed to find her voice where she felt confident. And where the activities spoke to her and her strengths. She found those things in music class. And then she owned her new voice and used it to overcome whatever fears she had in the gym. Because now she tries skills. Now she participates fully. She is sometimes still nervous when trying new physical skills, but now instead of hiding and refusing to try, she just tells you that she is nervous as she is trying it anyway. And she is a joy to teach in both programs.

So my hope for all of us is that we can find a change in environment when we need it. Find a place where we feel confident. One that speaks to our strengths and draws out the very best in us. One where we can sing "Let It Go" loudly even when entirely different music is playing...

Angel Hundley is an instructor at and owner of The Little Gym franchise in Huntsville, AL.  The gym has weekly classes for 0-12 year olds in gymnastics, parent/child, dance, sports as well as music and movement.  For more stories, insights and cute baby pictures follow the gym on Facebook.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Being Real with Specific Positive Feedback

Today we’re having a staff meeting at my The Little Gym franchise location. In preparation, I asked all my staff to read a blog post on our gym website I wrote in back in 2011. I wanted to remind them of my core philosophy about teaching children before our new season starts in a week. Because I think it’s a good one. So I decided to share it with you all too…

Picture this scene- Child attempts forward roll: child climbs onto cheese mat, stands up straight with hands held high in the air, then drops to his knees, throws his shoulder down and sort of falls over himself and off the side of the mat. Resembles more of a wrestling move in a slapstick comedy than a gymnastics stunt. Cut to the instructor who says, “Good Job!”
Really?!? Good job? To that instructor I want to say, what was good about that?!?

There is an increasing amount of criticism these days for non-competitive sports leagues and the like where they don’t keep score and everyone receives a participation trophy. People worried that these practices don’t prepare kids for real life. Here’s what I think. Kids don’t need competition at a young age to prepare them for anything. But they do need, and deserve, meaningful, honest feedback. Specific feedback that is meant to highlight the behaviors that should be repeated.

At The Little Gym we call this SPF, specific positive feedback, and it is what we train our instructors to use when teaching. So if we go back to our scene above, the instructor could have said, “The way you stood up straight and held your hands high in the air was a perfect start. Let’s try it again now and this time…”

That is much more meaningful and instructive than just saying good job. And there is always something that can be said. Even if the whole skill looked a mess. Sometimes the SPF is simply, “I LOVED the enthusiasm you brought to that attempt!” If a child leaves feeling good about being enthusiastic and keeps that up, great! Better than leaving with a false sense of confidence for being told they did a great forward roll if they didn’t.

And the practice can certainly be used outside of the gym as well. I’m not saying using SPF is easy. You actually have to PAY ATTENTION closely enough to behaviors to be specific. Much easier to multi-task while watching our kids and look up occasionally and offer a “good job” as encouragement. But I challenge you to see the results if you begin to be more specific in your praise.

And as for the soccer league that doesn’t keep score and yet gives all players a trophy, I think that does kind of send the wrong message. At least as far as a child who is an incredible soccer player and yet gets the same reward and recognition as a child who barely knows a game is going on most of the time. But I do believe every child on the team deserves a reward and recognition. But a reward specific to an actual skill each child possesses and exhibited during the season. How much more powerful and meaningful would that trophy be then? And honestly, the trophies could all look exactly the same. Just be presented for different reasons. Maybe a child gets a trophy for being super fast. No one has to point out he ran so fast he overtook the ball and never stopped. Might not have kicked a ball once, but he ran like the wind! So maybe when he is old enough for competitive sports, he remembers his trophy for being fast and chooses track. And maybe he wins State. And then the Olympics. Instead of thinking he had a soccer trophy, so he must be good at soccer, and therefore joins a soccer team and is just mediocre…

So let’s make kids feel like winners by pointing out actual winning skills in them regardless of the score. And oh, by the way, I love the way you read all the way to the end of my blog…

My somewhat awkward, creative, life loving child. She may not grow up to be a professional dancer, but she will grow up to be remarkable.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

You are not that special...

I've learned an important lesson this week. I am not that special. And even as a child, I wasn't that special either.

Teaching Parent/Child classes for the last 8 years, the question I am most often asked by parents is some variation of "is it normal...?"
Is it ok... Do you think I should be worried about... My child does___, do other children do that?

And not once has a parent been hoping I would say, "Wow! That is unique! I've never seen that before!" That would not be a comforting answer to a parent trying to figure out if their kid is ok.
As parents, we can all see the wonderfully unique gifts our children have. We don't need reassurances that our children are special. But sometimes, we do need reassurances that they are not. We want to hear that our children our normal- that the behavior is not that strange...

And you know what? Without fail in the hundreds and hundreds of times I've had a variation of this conversation with a parent, I've always been able to reassure them that yes, their child is ok. Sometimes I have to say honestly that the behavior is not typical. But I've never had to say the behavior was unheard of... and that is all the parent needs to hear to feel less scared. Another child has gone through this. Another parent has dealt with this too. They are not that special.

I would wager that no one in the history of parenting has ever worried a child is too normal. No one stresses when a child hits all the developmental milestones on time and falls in the 50% on growth charts. We take comfort in our children being like everyone else even as we celebrate and encourage them to be different.

As grown-ups though there are no charts to gauge our averageness by and tell us where we fall compared to everyone else. We don't have casual conversations where we can ask others if our behaviors, thoughts or feelings are normal. And so we start to imagine that we must be the only person on the planet who feels or acts the way we do.

But this week I've heard from a quite a few people in response to my openness on this blog about issues I've dealt with, and I've learned another person has felt what I have. A lot of other persons actually. And I am less scared for hearing it. I am not that special. And you dear reader, you are not that special either...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The gift of authenticty...

A friend told me recently she has never been happy in her whole life. And while that might sound heartbreaking, it was honestly one of the most beautiful, hopeful interactions I've had in a long while. 

We were not in a bar commiserating as old friends. In fact, we're barely more than acquaintances. And yet we found ourselves in the middle of a crowded lobby talking authentically about our real selves. The beautiful part. And she was sharing not out of despondency or to complain; she was sharing about taking control of her future by owning her past story. The hopeful part. 

It's all too rare in life to have genuine, life affirming interactions with good friends. Not because we don't care about one another, but because life is moving fast. And we're all busy trying to be so many things to so many people in so many settings. So experiencing moments when all pretense is gone, and core emotional truths are open and vulnerable is a gift. And so to have one with a casual friend on a random day in the middle of a crowded room was an especially unexpected gift. One that I will now treasure. And one that reminds me to be open and hopeful for more of these interactions- not guarded and cynical of sharing my true self for fear of being real. 

And this casual friend is on a journey of being real. One that I find attractive. In fact, since I own a small business, I sort of have a rule not to "friend" my customers or staff on Facebook. If they friend me, of course I accept, and I'm genuinely happy to do so, but I've always felt that given our real world relationship, I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable like they have to be my friend and not just my customer or employee. (Although I do genuinely like and think of all my customers and staff as friends.)

 Anyway, this woman on her journey of understanding her self and becoming real was so compelling to me even before this recent conversation, that I broke my own rule and requested to be friends with her almost a year ago. Actually what I just realized when I checked when we became friends, was that I reached out to her that way exactly the month I went to a training about leadership being a spiritual practice. The month I learned that doing the hard work examining self and working through the emotional barriers we all have is necessary to be more fully present to the people we serve. And the month I wrote my blog about my journey to becoming whole. Which is a revelation to me. In my mind, I had thought I had only been Facebook Friends with her for a few months. But it makes sense now that of course that was when I reached out to know her more.

Because you see, until that recent conversation, I did not know any specifics of her journey. But through interacting with her on a regular basis over the last 7 years, I could see/can see that she is becoming whole too. I could see that she was being genuine and authentic, or trying to be. And it made her beautiful and compelling. And then once we were friends on Facebook, I found that she says the most outrageous and honest things- most of the time with profanity involved. And it is like a breath of fresh air whenever I read her posts. Really profane fresh air... 

And so I write this to affirm for her that I see her beauty and am hopeful that she will one day find happiness. And I write this to remind all of us- that having the courage to be authentic, and sharing part of our real selves with casual friends on random days in the middle of crowded rooms can be life affirming in the most beautiful, hopeful way...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saving and savoring the world one camp week at a time...

*This is an excerpt from a talk I gave on revelry. I wrote it to be read aloud. So if you know me, please try to “hear” my voice and put the proper inflection and tone in as you read. If you don’t know me- WOW! Thanks for finding and reading this random blog! Please try to “hear” it in any voice you like best! 

 …We cannot forget to revel in the midst of our work- because there is always work to do.  We needn’t wait to have “vacations” or ‘nights off” to revel and be joyful.

EB White in a New York Times interview in 1969 said,

 “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”

And if not first, then simultaneously. Maybe the trick is to learn to do both at once- save and savor.

My 11 year old and her friend went to camp last week. They had a fantastic time, and I know they had experiences and learned things that will stay with them for a lifetime. And as I looked at the young camp staff in charge of their care, I was reminded of the best 3 summers of my life- when I worked at a Camp Otterbein in Ohio.

Camp life is a magical place where for 10 weeks the rest of the world fades away. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret now. Something I knew to be true at the camp I worked, and after spending a little time looking at camp counselors' blogs this week, I’m now pretty certain it’s a universal secret among camp staffs.

Here it is: The primary goal of the entire staff is to have a good time. Not make sure the kids have a good time. I mean our primary goal was to make sure WE had a good time. The primary goal. Sure we cared about the kids, sure we wanted them to be safe and have a good time, sure we wanted them to learn things, but I promise you our number one focus was on having fun ourselves with the other camp counselors. We lived for the 24 hours every week when the camp was free of the campers and it became our personal playground.

When the campers were there, they were at best an audience for us and at worst a prop. It was like camp life was some magical place where the goal really was to revel in life. And it had a sort of fake it till you make it atmosphere. For example if it rained, we didn't want unhappy campers (because that would make us unhappy) so we acted like the rain was awesome, and so it was.

Before I worked at Camp Otterbein, I attended that camp every summer for 8 years. As a camper my life was changed, and I learned so many things that have stayed with me to this day. However, having worked on staff later with two of my favorite counselors, I can assure you changing my life was not their primary concern. Or even a main concern. And that’s ok.
As 16-year-old camper. Me on bottom left. Favorite counselor in middle top row.

On staff together few years later.

As counselors, our goal was not to change young lives, although I am sure we did, because we were in a position to do so. We were working in a place where we had the opportunity to do good work, with specific confines to operate in, and so we did good work and had the best times of our lives.

I’m sure if you gathered any like-minded group of 18-24 year olds to work together 24/7, one of their primary goals would be to have a great time. If they are gathered together to work on selling time-shares, that good time will manifest differently than it will in a church camp setting. My point is we didn’t have to stress about or worry if we were making a difference in the world. Our choice to work there already put us in a place to make a difference. So we just kicked back and enjoyed every minute of it. We saved and we savored.

I used to look back with awe at my time at camp. I thought I loved it so much because we were all young and energetic with a great job living in an amazing place. And that’s all part of it. But when I play with my kids for fun and not out of duty, then I touch on that feeling again. So maybe it wasn't about who we were then or where we were, but what we expected from life and our jobs in those moments in that time. Maybe it was so magical just because our primary goal was simply to revel in life and to enjoy the people around us.

Now one important reason having fun could be our main goal was that we didn’t have to worry about bills, food, shelter, or anything really from the outside world. Like I said, the outside world melted away.

And so I know as adults in the real world, we can’t just forget all our responsibilities and become self-serving people only concerned with having a good time. At least not completely. But I do think sometimes we could move the goal of having fun, of participating in revelry, even as we work, up to the top of our list and see what happens.

...Where could you practice saving and savoring? Here is my prayer for you- may you enjoy the dish you brought to the potluck you planned, may you feel awe at a work day as you dig in the dirt and notice the ground below you, may you laugh uncontrollably during the class you lead, may you feel the full warmth of community as you march for justice, may you be filled up with the joy of doing good work in a committee meeting, may you get chills at how beautiful the music is coming from the choir you are singing with, may you revel in the parties you plan and help with- the fundraisers and the holidays, and may you always find a way to step back from the work of saving the world as you are doing it just long enough to savor the world around you. May you replenish your spirit with revelry. Everyday.