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Back to School: What’s Important to Know?

August 17, 2015

Yes, it IS still summer, but students across the country are heading back to school, and although I hate to see big, yellow buses round the corner, a heightened energy resonates with me. It’s a season full of possibility; positive and encouraging.

As teachers begin to set their curriculum, I’ve decided to set my own; as a parent, an educator, and a concerned community member who wants to see our children and our society thrive.

What is important to learn? What goals have we made for our families, our students, and ourselves? In my book, achieving a 100% on a test, winning a race, or landing a lead is fantastic, but not what’s essential or really all that important. So—what is important to know? I’ve created a list.

  • Love: enough said
  • Kindness: it goes a long way
  • Acceptance: of others and oneself
  • Balance: between one’s mind, body, and soul
  • ABC’s- and 123’s: we all need to read and to add
  • Self-sufficiency: learn how to learn on your own
  • Spirituality: find faith
  • Respect: yourself and others
  • Healthy habits: eat well, sleep well, rest well, work well
  • Understanding the world around us: this includes geography, cultural behaviors, religions, politics, and social influences
  • Self-confidence: trust your intuition
  • Nature: spend time outside, it’s life’s best and yet most underutilized teacher
  • Beauty: look for it everywhere—in the slice of an orange, the shape of a cloud
  • Creativity: make time to discover and explore
  • Visualize: dream possibilities
  • Compassion: it also goes a long way
  • Gratitude: enough said

As your kids climb aboard the school bus, keep life in perspective and remember what’s really important.

What’s on your list?

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Whoops- here’s the shot

July 20, 2015

IMG_4487

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Rock Waves and Time

July 20, 2015

For the most part, I don’t post pictures on this blog. But this entry wouldn’t make sense if you’ve never seen canyon country. This is a photograph of a slot canyon in Utah. Incredible. From the surface, you’d never know that ancient waters carved the canyons, but once you’re down in them; the swirling, wavelike marks along the rock wall are impossible to miss.

Time.

It took an impossibly long time to create such beauty out of rock.

It can take an impossibly long time to create a manuscript worth reading.

I didn’t need the rocks to remind me how painstakingly slow the publishing industry moves or how incredibly long it can take to create a darn good sentence. But canyon country was an excellent reminder to accept the writing process. It can’t be rushed. Writers need to write and revise. Write and revise. Write and revise. We must get critiques from beta readers. We must revise again. Writers need to break, step away, and see a new perspective; then jump back in and write, plus you guessed it, revise.

Time. It takes time.

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Bringing Suicide to the Dinner Table

May 28, 2015

After my oldest daughter’s classmate committed suicide 4 days before graduation, and my youngest daughter’s friend’s dad killed himself only one month prior; I wrote this essay for my local paper, but a number of people have encouraged me to post it here.

I’ve thought about suicide. A lot.

Not only have I had dark moments in my life; the times that I believed there was no point in living, I’ve also had an aunt take her life, a cousin attempt to take his life, and many Summit County community members die from suicide. In fact, I’ve known more people who have lost their lives to suicide than any other kind of death, including heart disease and cancer. That. Is. Not. Okay.

I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I a counselor or an expert on suicide. But here’s my story. Here are my questions and my thoughts, and as frightening as it is to write a public article in a very small town, I believe that until we all start telling our stories, speaking our truth and creating a dialogue about death and mental health, we will be attending more memorials of friends and family who’ve died from suicide.

Like so many teens, I began to wonder about life and what it all meant my junior year in high school. I grew up in a typical Midwestern, middle-class family with four siblings and loving parents. We went to church. We went to college. We ate hotdogs and ice cream on the 4th of July. I was voted friendliest in my senior class. Nothing was horribly wrong in my life—far from it—I looked like a normal, happy teenager and most of the time I was. Until I wasn’t. I wish I could make it easy and point to a specific time or event that made me question the purpose of life, but I cannot.

Looking back, I believe that it was a combination of factors; some genetic, some inherent, and some learned that led to my insecurities about mortality. The first person who helped me understand that I was not to blame for feeling anything but happy was a friend. It was four more years until I sought professional help. And then I quit. I didn’t want people to know, and I didn’t want people to talk; too much shame was involved. Instead, I acquired a few bad habits, indicative of many who struggle with mental health issues, and I carried on. It was another twenty years before I returned to counseling; hoping to help my kids, my family, and myself. I believe that I did, but my point is this: mental illness has no typical face, and depression does not always look morose.

This I do know. When someone is in a dark place, they cannot see their way out. But sometimes, one person, one conversation can make a difference. It’s time to have that conversation in all communities.

Admitting that I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and issues that are held under the umbrella of mental illness is not easy. When people think of mental illness, they conjure up thoughts from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or crazies and loonies on the street. In reality, mental illness affects one in four adults (even higher for kids) and many brilliant leaders, artists, and well-known personalities have suffered (Robin Williams, Abraham Lincoln, Kurt Cobain, Patty Duke, Virginia Woolf, Jimmy Hendrix, and Winston Churchill; to name only a few). Mental illness covers a staggering number of issues; including eating disorders, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, mood disorders, OCD behaviors, PTSD, panic attacks, and more. Any of these issues can become overwhelming. And all of them can lead to death.

Last October, U.S. NEWS &WORLD REPORT reported that suicide hit its highest level in 25 years. Today in Colorado, teen suicide ranks 9th in the nation. Although mental health is not well funded, there are support groups and organizations that can provide valuable information. The Kim Foundation helps families struggling with mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has an active Colorado chapter, and the Mayo Clinic, along with other on-line sites; offer signs and symptoms about mental illness. If you want to read—I can offer a list of books. Local schools and health providers will offer help and more resources. The key is to use them.

In my experience, most people don’t like to use the word suicide or talk about death within local communities. People seem to understand or acknowledge suicide when they hear about someone who’s been bullied, someone who is confused with their sexual orientation, and someone who’s been violated. But there are others. Suicide is uncomfortable and disturbing, but talk we must. How does it happen? What can we do to stop it? Why can’t someone see hope, have faith that life will get better? At the point when someone decides to leave the planet, there is very little that any of us can do to stop her/him, but there are steps to intervene before that final point arrives.

By starting more conversations and sharing information, we might come to a better understanding of mental illness and suicide. We might come to know the pressures that are holding down our society and begin to say no to them. We might come to realize the importance of time, attention, meditation, nature, faith, love, and clarity. We have a society that hands out prescriptions, cough medicines, and anti-acids to ease physical illness. We need to find the tools to ease mental illness as a necessary health practice.

Lives are at stake—please put aside the gossip and the religion and the cultural barriers and the preconceived notions about suicide and please talk the issues surrounding mental illness, both mild and severe. Talk to your kids, your parents, your siblings, your neighbors, your teachers, and your friends—or if it’s you who’s in pain, choose someone you trust and talk. One conversation can make a difference. We walk and we run and we snowshoe and we fundraise for physical disease. We are long overdue to do the same for our mental health. Our community needs help.

It’s time to stop the shame surrounding mental illness and bring it to the dinner table.

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Inspiring Graduation Quotes

May 21, 2015

In honor of my daughter’s high school graduation…

89b6ef2659a0f6b0c5fd70a920bc811c f4f68023c7a4997dd4e17580938cf358 07fe84f4f58a3dd0db3afdc94be2559a 4f8aa632c645fb61842508a1cb34db24

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The Destination or the Journey

May 2, 2015

Last month I embarked on an epic, spring break road trip with my husband and four teens: three of our own and one extra because we’re insane. After a staggering 1700 miles, the kids declared that we’d finally reached our destination—the Pacific Ocean.

I disagreed.

In my mind, we wouldn’t reach our destination until we pulled back into our driveway in Colorado. The road trip was just that: a trip on the road. There was no destination, I said. It was all a destination. No surprise; the kids rolled their eyes. For them, the beach was it. Sounding somewhat Taoist or like a guest on Oprah’s Soul Sunday show, I insisted that everything we’d done on the trip had been part of the journey and that we needed to live in the present to truly appreciate the adventure. Again, more eye-rolling.

Given we had another 1700 miles to go, I had lots of time to ponder this idea of mine, and eventually, I wound it back to my writing.

What is the destination for a writer? Is it to make money? To get published? Send a message? Leave a stamp on the world? Waste time? Perhaps it is all of the above, but I realize that like a road trip, every part of the writing process is part of the whole. To focus on one piece is to miss the rest.

I wouldn’t have skipped the Grand Canyon, where crazy tourists fed squirrels and told their kids that icebergs created the canyon. I wouldn’t have wanted my kids to forego the dinner at the Mormon diner in Utah or miss the opportunity to get lost in slot canyons. I wanted them to see the Mexican border, drink milkshakes while listening to Buddy Holly on Route 66, and witness the Vegas hoopla. If we’d jumped directly to the Pacific, they’d have missed rich and tacky parts of our country. They would have missed the details.

Epic road trips are exactly like the writing process, and as writers, we must experience every stop along the way.

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MFA or not?

April 13, 2015

Today I tried my best to study as a writer: I read a book about sentence construction, pulled out my highlighter, and did my best to discover the secrets of a sentence. Then, I fell asleep.

There are times when I lament the fact that I grew up in a world where MFA’s did not exist. If they did, I certainly was unaware, clueless about the world of fine arts. It wasn’t until after I’d worked in Boston, then founded my own business, and finally wrote my own companion piece that I realized people go to school to learn how to write. By that time, I had three kids under the age of five and going back to school was not an option. So, I read. I read and I read and I read. Then I went to a workshop and then another. I began to study blogs and authors’ websites. I went to more workshops. I began to edit and critique and finally, to teach.

The book on sentence structure wasn’t necessarily boring, but for me, I realized the best way to learn and improve my own writing was by reading other books within my genre. I studied books that I loved and even those I didn’t. I rewrote authors’ sentences, plagiarizing their rhythm, not to copy into my own work but to learn. And I did.

Not everyone needs an MFA. As the cliché goes—we all have our own path, a journey to follow. As a non-MFA graduate, I know that I’ll always be studying the craft of writing, forever a student. And, I’m okay with that. It’s a fabulous way to grow.

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