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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Public Confession Time

Old people scare me. Just wanted to get that out into the universe. I know I'm usually all "love and tolerance" on here, and that's partly why I've felt called to confess. Time to stand at the alter of the internet and admit my shortcomings and ask forgiveness...

Crying babies, difficult kids, unruly teenagers, non-English speaking students, driver's ed students- bring 'em on. I've worked with each of those populations with poise and near infinite patience. But stick me in a room with one old person trying to have a conversation with me, and watch me sweat. Look at my choice of words even, "trying to have a conversation with me." What kind of characterization is that?!? Clearly I have a problem. But I'm working on it. You know, admitting you have a problem is the first step.

The upcoming presidential campaign has really brought my prejudice out in full force. It doesn't matter how much I agree with a certain candidate's politics, if they are near 70, or worse over 70, all I can think is how can we let someone that old run the country?!? I know. I should hang my head in shame. It's almost as bad as judging someone for their gender or race. Almost. I mean, my fear is a little justified, right? Wait, no. Breathing deep. Starting over...

So the Netflix series Grace and Frankie has been good for me.  Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda play single women in their 70's who are both cooler and living life more fully than I was in college. I cannot tell you how mind-boggling that is to me. And if this show is to be believed, there is little difference between my longings and motivations and theirs! Like they are regular people, just in their  70's! And I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of a Netflix show. House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are pretty much like documentaries...

Back in my real-life world, I can see the writing on the wall too. I'm getting older. In fact, as I age, (now 41) my social circles are aging too. Which honestly keeps taking me by surprise. I now have friends in their 50s and 60s (see how progressive I am!) and they seem ok... so I've been trying to open my mind to the possibility that old people are regular people too. People who I do not need to fear... unless they control the nukes. I stand by that worry. Baby steps...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Life lessons learned from writer AJ Jacobs

Next week I'm going to the Global Family Reunion where I'll meet AJ Jacobs. So before he totally seems like a real person to me, I'd like to share what I've learned from the writer AJ Jacobs.

A.J. is a journalist and author of four New York Times bestsellers. All of them fantastic. If you read them you will laugh and learn lots about lots of interesting things. But those aren't things I want to tell you about now. Now I want to be a little more big picture. Share life lessons I've learned from AJ that we could all use.

1. Keep your message consistent, but know your audience

The first time I read an article AJ had written for Esquire, I was a little taken aback. To that point I had only read his books. Books that read like we were in conversation. So I clicked on an Esquire article expecting the same feeling that he was writing to me. Instead, it seemed like he was writing to a man! And a somewhat crass man at that. Even referenced masturbation in the article. So I sat there staring at the screen in confusion for a few seconds, and then it hit me. He was writing to a man. Because Esquire is a magazine for men. But I kept reading. And I shook off my prudish tendencies for a few minutes, and I let myself laugh and even learn a little.  Because at the heart of what he was saying, was still the same heart in all of his other work. His message was the same, he had just written it for a different audience.

Since then I've read and listened to countless pieces he's done on the Global Family Reunion for various and diverse press outlets. And guess what? His message is consistently the same. But the examples he gives, the tone he takes, the stars he name-drops, those change almost every time.

And while I am impressed with his mastery at writing for different audiences, I'm even more impressed that his message always stays the same. He does not change his core to please others. He changes his communication style to reach others. And it works. Did I mention the four best sellers?

Life lesson- Don't change who you are to fit in somewhere, but consider changing how you communicate who you are. Keep your message consistent, but know your audience. 

2. Pick everyone for your team

I've never been in an elementary gym class with AJ, but I imagine the scene this way- when asked to be the team captain, AJ picks every one who has their hand raised until the whole class is one big team.

AJ practices radical inclusiveness. When he is writing on a topic, he interviews someone from just about every side imaginable. He is consistent in representing what he believes, but he is respectful and fair in his treatment of what others believe. He finds common ground in normally contentious topics like religion, and he builds on it. And this approach gives a depth to his projects, and therefore his writing, that is rare. His work is full of fresh perspectives. Most of them not his. Reading about his projects, it seemed he would accept help or advice from seemingly anyone who would give it.

And now I know that to be true. Last summer I emailed him a suggestion for his new project, the Global Family Reunion. Instead of being skeptical of me as a potential stalker fan from Alabama, or vetting me in anyway, he said-great idea- would you like to help? Short time later I'm on the Who We Are tab on the Global Family Reunion website. I joined his team. As have countless other volunteers helping with this effort all around the world in large and small ways. And he cheers for all of us. Which only makes us want to help him more...

Life lesson- Instead of trying to build the best team, build one team. Pick everyone.

Practice Delusional Optimism

AJ thinks big. And then he commits. Throws himself into things. Totally. I've decided that is not a life lesson I want to learn- the throwing oneself into things part I mean. Because he does some crazy stuff for his writing. I'd rather just read about his adventures than throw myself into crazy diets or lifestyles. But I do admire his belief that he can accomplish whatever goal he sets out to accomplish. And I do love the loftiness in his ideas about the world.

In recent press, AJ described what keeps him going as "delusional optimism." And his current vision as an "admittedly quixotic dream." And although I don't remember him using those terms exactly to describe his past projects, the same spirit was present in them as well. That's what made them great. And successful. And that's why people raise their hands to join his team. It's like when people want to drink what the happy drunk is having. You can't listen to AJ and not want to share in his delusions...

Life Lesson: Dwell in possibility. Don't let perfectly reasonable fears stop you from attaining greatness. Practice delusional optimism.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

I am an ally because...

I heard an inspiring talk today by Brett Jones author of Pride: The Story of the First Openly Gay Navy SEAL. Brett instructed as all to take the high road in moving equality issues forward. He was open, authentic and giving in his sharing of his story. When his eyes filled with tears as he recounted his parents kicking him out of the house as a teen for being gay, we felt his pain. And it would have hardly been surprising to hear an angry, bitter response to that and to his outing while in the Navy. But that was not his tone. Instead, he modeled compassion and integrity. He called for all of us to be our best selves in response to injustice. He reminded us progress is made by good people making tough decisions and taking difficult action.

I didn't actually just hear the talk; I helped to organize it. Because I am proud to say that I am an ally working toward equality in my sweet home Alabama. Because the LGBTQ cause is my cause. It is my cause not because I share a sexual orientation, but because I share a human orientation. Their story is my story. It is one of vulnerability and longing for acceptance. It is one of trying to find yourself and learning to be comfortable with who you are. It is often a story about friendship and acceptance. It is also sometimes a story about loneliness and isolation. And it is all too often a painful story to tell.

And so I write this to thank Brett for his willingness to so publicly share his story. And to say to anyone who might not yet feel comfortable telling theirs, we are here to listen if you ever need to tell it. And to anyone who might think this is not their story, not their cause, I encourage you to listen again. To hear the truths and vulnerabilities common to us all. To our human orientation.

Last year I wrote a post about a secret I had hid most of my life. A secret that really no one but me probably even thought needed to be hid. In the last year since writing that post and sharing it publicly, I have changed. I feel more authentic and comfortable in my own skin. I worry less what people think. I feel more whole. And again, my secret in no way rose to the level of feeling the need to hide a core aspect of my being for fear of being hurt or discriminated against. But whenever I hear a coming out story, or a story of someone who felt forced to hide part of themselves, I understand. I empathize. I feel connected. And so I choose to be their ally. And I believe when we are being our best selves, we can listen to others' stories with an open heart to hear the ways our stories our the same. To see that we are not so different after all.

with Brett Jones
True confession, I am not just an ally because I empathize with LGBTQ stories. I am also an ally for more selfish reasons. I have been blessed by intelligent, funny, caring, giving people in my life who happen to also be gay. My life, and the lives of my children, would be greatly diminished if I limited my friendships and interactions to people with whom I share a sexual orientation. Not because these friends have exposed me to what it's like to be LGBTQ- but because these friends have taught me so much about so many things. My goal is to be a well-rounded human being, so I try to keep my circles wide. And each person who crosses in brings something new. And I am the richer for it. And today I was richer for hearing a former Navy SEAL tell his story of love. Thank you Brett.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Planting apple trees

I live in Alabama. Two days ago it was 70 degrees outside. Yesterday the whole town was shut down due to an ice storm. True story. So this got me thinking about the end of the world. Obviously. Which reminded me of a quote I posted on my facebook page on MLK day:
"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces I would still plant my apple tree.”  -Martin Luther King Jr

I like this sentiment. But since the day I posted it, I've been feeling a little guilty. See technically speaking, I would be lying if I claimed I would plant an apple tree the day before the world ended. In all honesty, more likely I would wait until the morning of the last day. Or I'd wait till the morning of the last day to buy the seed. Then I'd plant it mid-day. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I'd think about planting it the day before the world ended. I'd probably even plan in my head where it should be planted. Might even check on the inventory of apple seeds. But actually plant it when there's a whole other day left in which to do it? Unlikely.

See I'm not crippled by pessimism, but rather optimism. A pessimist might think why plant an apple tree when the world's going to end anyway? Me, I dwell in possibility. So I would say, why plant an apple tree today when I'll have so much time tomorrow? And who really knows if the world will end?  However it occurs to me in either case, the apple tree is not planted as soon as it could be...

Perhaps my optimism slows me down in areas of social justice. When I don't participate in a march or a protest or a movement, it's not because I don't think those things will help. It's because I think lots of things will help, and that I'll have time to do some of them.  I truly believe in the goodness of people. I tend to think things will work out. That the arc of moral universe is long, but it does bend toward justice as King believed. And so sometimes I wait. Since I believe in the end it will be all right, perhaps I don't try hard enough to speed up the arc's journey. I try a little; if I see an injustice, or I'm presented with an opportunity to help, of course I do that. But perhaps I'm missing the urgency that comes with thinking things are crap and always will be crap unless we do something now...

Not that I want to think things are crap. I think some things are unjust. Some things are wrong. Some things are horrible. Some things are unacceptable. But I never think things in general are crap. And so I wait to plant my apple tree. So what to do?!?

I need to make friends with more tree planters. I may not always believe I need to take a stand for a cause. But I always believe I need to stand with my friends. I do see the urgency in supporting people I love. And so if I belonged to a community of tree planters who spent the whole day before the world ended planting trees, I would be right there with them. 

To make a difference in the world, I'm motivated not to fight for a cause, but to fight for friends. I'm spurred to action by community. Which is why I believe in building as diverse of a community as possible. The more diversity in the community, the more depth in the ways to help the world. When we lift up the cause important to one member or our community, we lift up the entire community bit by bit. I hope you'll join us. I'll bring the shovel. You get the seeds...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Formative Tree- for David Duckworth

I clearly remember the moment I first realized it was possible for me to be wrong. I was 18 and in the middle of an argument with a friend's sister in England. I was defending our American lifestyle and feeling righteously indignant. My favorite state of being really when I was 18. Then she said something about how if we were serious about the environment we could build public transportation systems to decrease our dependance on cars. And it hit me. She might be right. I had nothing to say back. A rare occasion for me up to that point.

I tell that story not to say anything about the specifics of transportation policy or my opinions now of it. But rather to illustrate a formative moment in my life. Whenever I've felt myself digging into a position without looking at the other side, I remember that conversation. And that feeling of realizing there was another side. Someone else might have a reasoned point. And I'm grateful to her. To my friend's sister I only knew for 2 weeks more than 20 years ago. Grateful for an interaction in all likelihood she has no memory of having.

Formative experiences are like that. Something seemingly small and insignificant to one person, could change another person's whole life. Wouldn't it be interesting to map out these formative memories the way we do our family trees? In the same way we trace back to find our ancestors to gain insight into our DNA, perhaps we could make a formative tree with those people who had real impacts on our emotional maturity. Really see everyone who helped make us- us. To honor and remember their contributions the way we honor our ancestors. 

Some people might appear on our formative trees as tiny twigs signifying short encounters like the conversation I remember with my friend's sister. But other people, old friends, might be represented with huge branches or even large parts of our root systems. Friends who were there being fused to our hearts while we were being formed.

One of my formative friends, David Duckworth, passed away last week. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend an evening with him and his wife a few years back while my husband and I were in London where David and his wife lived. That was the only time I had seen him over the last 20 years. And yet when I heard he had died, I felt real sadness and a need to mourn. For a second, I felt like that might be inappropriate. Like I had no right to mourn for someone I hardly knew anymore. That I should feel for his wife and children (which of course I do) but not sadness on my own account.

Then after hearing of his death, two other old friends reached out to me through messaging about their feelings, and I've read other friends' comments on Facebook, and I realized, of course I should mourn for David. We all should. He was important to me and to so many others. If I can feel affection for an ancestor I've never met, how much more appropriate is it to feel sorrow at the loss of someone so important on my formative tree? We are intertwined. He is a part of me. And when a part of you dies, you mourn.

I'm not sure if David knew how much I admired him. How much I thought of his character. But I hope he knew I was glad to have been his friend. And if you're an old friend reading this, please know I was blessed by you too. I am certain you would appear on my formative tree. And no matter how long it has been since we've spoken, just like David, you'll always be fused to my heart. My memories of you- make up me.

from my 18th birthday party- Anna, Dharmesh, Sheri, David, Stephen- some of my favorite branches.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Some of my best friends are from Alabama...

My husband and I moved to Alabama for his job when I was pregnant with our oldest daughter. We've lived here more than 11 years now, and I'm still a little in denial about it. 

A while back I was talking about the civil war with my daughter. Conversation went like this:
me: we won the war so...
her: wait, Alabama was part of the North?
me: well no, not "we" Alabama, "we" Ohio. Mommy is from Ohio.
her: you've lived in Alabama 10 years. You're a southerner.
I felt like she slapped me.

And that was not the first time she had tried to get me to understand that we are Alabamians. When she was about 4, she wanted to be a cheerleader for Halloween. I offered to buy her an Ohio State Cheerleader Outfit. She looked at me with disdain (yes, even at 4 she could pull off disdain) and said, "why would I want to be an Ohio State Cheerleader? I am from Alabama. I want to be an Alabama Cheerleader." Naturally. 

She's now 11 and still totally firm in her love of Alabama. In fact, recently she said she wanted to live in Mobile when she grew up. I asked why. She said cause they have a beach. I told her there were beaches all over the world. She said, yes, but that beach is in Alabama.

So I'm trying to learn to accept the fact that my daughters were born and raised in Alabama. Today I saw some study where Alabama ranked near the bottom again in well-being surveys. And I had my first moment of feeling like I should stick up for my daughter's home state. A state she loves.

So here goes. Yes, there are political realities here that make me cringe every time I think about them. Yes, I wish the state did better in a lot of things. But the truth is, while those things make for great punch lines on the Daily Show, and make me occasionally feel like hanging my head in shame, they do not define our life in Alabama.

We have found a community of like minded people. Many of whom grew up here. Of course, that I feel I need to add that fact proves I'm not totally past my stereo-types about Alabamians. And as my 8-year-old likes to tell me, stereotyping is not good. And the truth is, some of my best friends are from Alabama...

I like to think I'm open-minded and tolerant. One of my best friends once told me, "liberals always think they are tolerant. But they mean they are tolerant of everyone but conservatives." There is some truth to that. I make little to no pre- judgements about people from exotic cultures. But I'm surprised a bit every time I meet someone intelligent and well-rounded who grew up in Alabama. And again, I live, work and play among them. So I should know better. 

I should know that loving Alabama or Auburn football means just that your a fan of football. Speaking with a southern accent reveals only a birthplace, not an intelligence level. I should know that you can not judge a person's character by their zip code.   

My daughter has every right to be proud of her home. And I need to learn to say with pride that I am from Alabama. I don't have to be proud of every policy or historical event. But I can find satisfaction in the life we've built here. I can take ownership in the state and work to improve the well-being for all here.

I can be proud that I am raising thoughtful, compassionate, educated children who are proud to be from Alabama and want to grow up and live on the beaches of Mobile.

She occasionally shares random thoughts in no consistent way at...

So AJ Jacobs shared a sermon I wrote on the Global Family Reunion Blog. Before he posted it, he sent me the intro to look over. Originally it said, "she blogs at..." I was like, I don't feel like I blog. I feel like I occasionally write stuff and post it to a blog and share the link on Facebook. So AJ was kind and changed it to "she writes at..." Which last night sounded great to me.

Then my crazy kicked in a little bit. So this morning I sent AJ an email saying, "so she writes at is also now making me crazy. I have real problems I know. Started to think I don’t write at something the way you write at Mental Floss or Esquire. More like I record random thoughts at…"

He was kind again and indulged me and sent an email to the Blog editor to change it. But she had already posted it with the aforementioned "she writes at..." intro. And so now I feel compelled to write something here on this blog today.

The problem is I have no process. I don't consistently write on here. And when I do write here, the topics are all over the place with no real theme connecting them. It's a creative outlet for me. One that I usually only indulge in when I have something to say.

So if you've found this blog today through the link on the Global Family Reunion, I want to say thank you. Both for your interest in the Global Family Reunion and your interest in my random thoughts. Hopefully you will find something here that resonates with you. And I'm glad we're family now.