8 Rules to ROCK! (my 8 yr. old niece’s rules of life)

July 24, 2018 by  
Filed under My Writing

I recently ended a most beautifully fun-filled week with my niece, and am reflecting on her exuberant joie-de-vie. Every summer, my California-born and raised girl stays with me in Chicago for a taste of midwest summer living. This year’s adventures included Feed My Starving Children volunteer time, family get togethers,  library  visits, swimming, paddle boating, jumping for joy in a trampoline park and more. While my own daughter is now 26, that incredible breadth of experience one gains from
spending time with children in summer comes delightedly back when my niece visits.

This is the face of a little girl who just helped pack enough meals to feed 153 families.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post, A Six Year Old’s Simple Rules of Life, reflecting on my niece’s stay back then. This year, she asked me to write an update with her own list of rules to live by. So on her last night in town, after dinner, we sat down. With no hesitation and impressive articulation, Sky sat tall and serious, turned to me and listed her rules as she thought of them.

Here they are . . .  “8 Rules to ROCK!” as she titles them! They are hers, word-for-word, no prompting from Auntie T, in her order, from our little interview☺

  1. Always be happy and not care about what other people say about you.
  2. Don’t take a compliment too seriously. Just say thank you.
  3. Treat others the way you want to be treated even if they’ve been mean to you.
  4. Remember, lots of people may not look like you but we’re all kind and nice in the heart. (this one may be my favorite💕)
  5. If someone does not know what to do, help them.
  6. Never take advice from a stranger even if it’s very tempting.
  7. When clouds are grey and skies are dark, you still know that you can be happy.
  8. Don’t take beauty from the outside; take it from the inside.

Pretty profound and on point! At 8 years of age, a child’s language and literacy skills are developing rapidly, setting the groundwork for academic achievement ahead. My niece amazes me with her mature integrity, and is well on her way to a beautiful life of learning and love.

A Tree House



Personal Training with Holistic Lifestyle Coach Nicole Moneer

August 31, 2017 by  
Filed under School's Out

 Joining Lifetime Fitness has had a greatly significant impact on my life on so many levels. When I was a freshman in high school, my father died unexpectedly of a major heart attack at age 38 and my aunt succumbed a year later to breast cancer at age 42. I made a vow to myself in those early years to maintain health as best I could to avoid a similar demise. The people I’ve met at Lifetime (both employees and members),  the experiences both in and out of the gym with many dear friends I’ve gained along the way, the healthy lifestyle I now practice and the simple joy of being part of a fit community all have helped me beyond words! Nicole Moneer, a holistic lifestyle coach and personal trainer at Lifetime, is one of those special individuals who impacts my life greatly.
I’ve admired Nicole since meeting her over 15 years ago when I first joined Lifetime. Nicole Moneer is a unique personal trainer who consistently practices exactly what she preaches. She’s more than fit, has maintained fitness as a 43 year-old mom to an active two-year old, eats clean without deprivation and carries a positive, can-do attitude that has taken her far. She’s experienced more than her own share of tragedy with both of her parents dying at a young age along with overcoming her own set of health problems. She’s published her story in her own candid book, What Lies Behind the Smile, speaks regularly at fund-raisers and schools to inspire others and owns her own online Healthy Mom business for pregnant and breast-feeding moms. Wow!

An unedited shot from the photo shoot with Don Bersano, after 8 weeks of training with Nicole.

Turning 51 this past year, I decided it was time to finally fully commit more seriously to my own health. I read many books, magazines and blogs about fitness, exercise and nutrition on my own, but craved more . . . especially with that big fat number looming over my head. I hired Nicole with specific goals in mind and, BAM, she knew, as I suspected, exactly what to do to help me achieve them. Specifically, I wanted to not only tone my buttocks and thighs, getting rid of as much signs of cellulite as I could (you know, the tell-tale signs of aging) but, more importantly, I wanted to ensure I was eating as healthfully as possible.  She helped me improve in those areas and more – with amazingly noticeable physical results showing up in as little as two weeks!! That’s how exact and spot-on she is with her advice both in the kitchen and the gym – advice that are turning into life-changing habits for me.

One of the many finished photos from my fitness shoot with Bersano

When you hire Nicole as your personal trainer and holistic lifestyle coach, you’re not just getting some new exercises to try. You’re getting a knowledgeable coach who truly cares. Through her detailed guidance over a 10-week period, I grew confident to conquer an item on my bucket list I’ve been wanting to do for some time but have been anxious over – my first fitness photo shoot with the well-respected Don Bersano!! And man, was it an uplifting experience with many wonderful shots to showcase my hard work. With Nicole’s help, I cleaned up everything from my water intake, my supplements, and my cooking and grocery shopping. Nicole even provides a comprehensive, delicious collection of recipes that she herself uses!! She offers credible articles whenever I have specific nutritional questions, and she texts just to check up or say Hey. And that’s all before we even step foot in the gym. She made me excited about coming to the gym again after quite a few years of doing the same thing!! I’ve now got a slew of targeted, varied workouts that truly give results, and I’m using equipment I was afraid to touch before. Additionally, as a super organized techie, I completely appreciated the instant share via Google Docs of those circuits for my future review.

Nicole and I – she’s so much fun to work with!!

Hiring Nicole is something that will continue to impact me. My only regret is not hiring her sooner because she’s such a wonderful soul to know!!  Regardless of fitness level, age, gender, etc, Nicole provides healthful, real results. Through her all-around, positive mindset, she’s one of those people who leaves you feeling better about yourself!

Nutrition for Educators

February 26, 2017 by  
Filed under My Writing, Nutrition Tips

Nutrition for Educators and Other Busy Professionals

Colleagues and friends often ask me how I have so much energy every day, teaching five preps, co-sponsoring the school newspaper, all while maintaining my paper grading load and still finding time to hit the gym five times a week.

A teacher’s day begins very early, and is dictated hourly by the bell. With barely enough time for bathroom breaks between classes, maintaining a healthy energy takes a little bit of planning along with a few prep steps each week. The steps may take a few minutes but will save on energy and precious time later in the week.

1. Prep food. On Sunday, wash fruit, cut and steam veggies, bake some chicken breasts, hard boil eggs, make a batch of oatmeal, bake sweet potatoes . . . the idea is to fill your fridge with as much grab-and-go healthy food that you most certainly won’t feel like preparing after a tiring day at work, when faced with those papers still waiting to be graded.

My Sunday groceries, ready to prep!

2. Snack. It’s just as important to prep the snacks. I love to prepare my own homemade trail mix. It’s much healthier, with no added salt or preservatives. I fill five small, snack size containers with raw pumpkin or sesame seeds, raw walnuts, raw almonds, dried cranberries, dried mulberries . . . whatever nuts and dried fruit I have. Here’s a post of mine telling more about mulberries. By the way, raw/no salt or added sugar is best for your nuts and dried fruit If you’re used to the salt, you will get unused to it, trust me. Give it time and you won’t miss it – either will your heart! If you don’t feel creative with mixing your own, here’s a tried and true recipe, TLC’s trail mix.

My snack mix

 3. Eat breakfast. Here’s where preparing a batch of oatmeal comes in handy. Grabbing a cup of coffee is not enough to sustain you for that early morning class or PLC meeting. Even grabbing a banana and hard-boiled egg is much better than nothing at all, and will get you your important macros (protein, carbs and fat).

 4. Drink water. Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day. You’ll be a reminder to the students to drink more water.  If you need your morning coffee, go for it – but that’s it. Too much caffeine will cause you to crash later. Check out my Reasons to Drink more water for more incentive!

5. Graze. Studies show it’s healthier to eat smaller meals throughout the day versus three big ones. Munch on some fruit or nuts that your brought in-between classes. Spread out meals so that you’re eating every few periods – don’t wait until your last free few moments of the day to gobble.

6. Avoid mindless munching. Bringing in birthday treats is a wonderful way to celebrate colleagues, and special occasions call for a little sweet cheat. If you’re eating healthfully on a regular basis, you deserve a treat, and allowing yourself to do so will avoid an overindulgence later on. Side note:  Avoid food that’s been sitting out all day – it’s bound to be spoiled with bacteria. No one wants that! So step away from the table after, say, Period 6. 🙂

So there it is, six super ways to maintain a healthy diet within even the most busy of days during the school year.  Stay tuned for more healthy recipes, workouts and lifestyle choices!!

A bonus, new recipe I just created – Protein Power Balls!

  • 2 Tbsp organic hemp seeds
  • 2 Tbsp organic chia seeds
  • 1 cup raw gluten-free, slow-cooking oats (I like Bob’s Red Mills but be sure to soak them overnight)
  • one mashed banana
  • 1 Tbsp raw almond butter (I like Trader Joe’s)

Mix the above ingredients. Form into 1″ balls and refrigerate. Enjoy in a couple hours as a grab-and-go energy snack.


A Six Year Old’s Simple Rules of Life

August 1, 2016 by  
Filed under My Writing

Each summer, I’m lucky to spend a week or two with my niece and I am always amazed. It’s a refreshing perspective to watch the world through a young one’s eyes. When Skylar is purposely focused, creating a detailed, drawn-out story around something as seemingly minuscule as a stick outside, for instance, I gain insight into what it means to truly live in the moment and experience life passionately.

Skylar likes to write poetry, she loves to make up stories and she relishes in make-believe. She even creates her own language complete with definitions. On one particular day of  playing school this summer, “teacher” Sky told “student” Auntie T there are a few rules everyone must live by. Wow, she’s wise beyond her years. I was so intrigued that I felt compelled to write these down. I asked Sky if I could mark these on this blog. Of course, that brought up a whole new conversation on blogging. She couldn’t wait to tell mom and dad! 🙂

My niece and I at THROWN ELEMENTS, a paint-your-own pottery place in Arlington Heights, IL

At THROWN ELEMENTS, a paint-your-own pottery place in Arlington Heights, IL

Skylar’s Rules

  1. Laugh every day. Skylar’s right – laughter is indeed the best medicine. We change physiologically when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and core, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster. It’s a mild workout, if you will, for your psyche. Come to think, I just looked this up and found a laughter researcher (what a happy job!), William Fry, who claimed it takes ten minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the level it would after just one minute of hearty laughter. I’m not so sure that exact amount of time holds true for everyone – I know my own heart rate elevates more rapidly during exercise. In any case, there’s no argument to the claim that laughter does wonders for us.
These two share the same birthday. They had to meet - it's a special day!!!

Sky with her new friend, Henry: these two share the same birthday – it’s a special day!!!

2. Be happy. This one truly is a choice . . . Skylar gets it right again! According to Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart, whether we realize it or not, we choose the thoughts that run through our heads and, thus, can choose feelings of happiness. Thoughts turn to our reality. I always err on the happy side. How about you?!


3. Listen to mom and dad, not strangers. This one was music to her parent’s ears. Young or old, we should all listen more carefully to what our parents are saying or said, and be grateful for our time with them, shouldn’t we? As for the strangers, it’s important to make friends but take heed of those that don’t follow the rules on this page.

Children are so good at making fast friends.

Children are so good at making fast friends.

4. Don’t be mad or sad. I agree with Sky that we can choose to not be mad or sad. Recognize and ride out those feelings but don’t let them take over. Forgive, keep on keeping, and be grateful for what you have. Holding onto the smallest ounce of negativity toward the past can lead to losing precious people in our lives.



5. Always, always, always LOL. She actually used the acronym when she said this one. I love how she came full circle, back to laughter. She indeed recognizes its significance. So there you have it, life as it should be according to a six-year old. It really is this simple. Period. Sometimes we need a young one to remind us.

At 2Toots Train Whistle Grill in Bartlett, IL

At 2TOOTS TRAIN WHISTLE GRILL in Bartlett, IL where they serve food on a train!

St. Patrick’s Day Smoothie

March 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Recipes

It doesn’t get much greener than this!! 

What makes this smoothie so healthful and energizing is the not-so-secret-anymore spirulina!! Have you heard about this multi-vitamin?!  All it takes is one teaspoonful a day to boost immunity, increase energy and support cardiovascular, eye and brain health.

I teach for three consecutive class periods in the early morning, which means I must be on and ready to go. This smoothie not only tastes better than coffee, it’s a healthy, natural alternative to caffeine. It leaves me satisfied and energized for that first essential half of the day!


Try this combination and you won’t even realize you’re drinking healthfully ~ it’s just too delicious!

Coconut Almond Green Smoothie

  • 1 tsp Spirulina
  • 2 tbs raw almond butter
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 frozen banana OR 1 avocado (if you don’t want all the sugar)
  • 2 tbs unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2/3 cup filtered water

Mix all of the above in a Vitamix or blender, and enjoy!!!!




Fitness for Educators

July 25, 2015 by  
Filed under Exercise, School's Out


A teacher friend and I running a mud run two summers ago.

A teacher’s life is often misunderstood. The illusion of the workday ending mid-afternoon along with summers off is misleading. It underscores the incredible amount of time spent lesson planning, grading, answering parent phone calls and emails, attending meetings, pursuing professional development opportunities and completing coursework to update certifications. As a result, teachers often are frustrated over scheduling time for needed personal commitments as they struggle to juggle the responsibilities outside of the classroom. Coaching and extra-curricular responsibilities often take precedence too. Add a traditional food services menu still offered in schools (high carbs, processed food, sugary drinks, etc) that most would define as less than healthful, and one can see how it can be hard for teachers to stay physically fit.

Teachers like to set positive examples for their students, and we teach the student much more than we teach the content. There can be, however, many roadblocks to teachers’ personal goals, and it’s unfortunate that fitness can easily take a backseat.

As a high school English teacher myself for the past seventeen years, I completely empathize with and understand frustrations. As a fitness enthusiast for most of my life, I’ve utilized tried and true tricks to stay in-shape even during the most stressful days of the school year.

While everyone is different, and there are a variety of specific nutritional plans and exercises that will work well for specific people, here’s a general list of simple practices anyone can incorporate into his or her daily life to promote more healthful living:

Teacher Tips for Being Fit ~

1. Schedule time for exercise. Teachers love to plan ahead and work by schedules so why not write your workouts within your weekly schedule. Scheduling 30 minutes of exercise in for three – four days a week is a good goal.

Before School Option:
Wake up a half hour – one hour early to give yourself time for a morning workout. Whether it’s spending time on basic at-home movement (such as crunches, push ups, bodyweight squats or simple stretches), partaking in a morning jog or visiting the local gym, you will be more wide awake and ready to take on whatever unfolds during the day. Also, getting up before the rest of your household might help squeeze your own needed time in.

During School Option:
If there is a gym facility available for faculty during the day, why not use your free period in the middle of the day for some movement? I know some colleagues who are completely refreshed after doing so and, thereby, combat the afternoon slump we may be susceptible to.

After School Option:
Go to the gym directly after you leave the building or go after dinner. I personally like to get my grading done before I go to the gym so that my mind is free but there’s something to be said for going directly to the gym right after you leave the building – you will get your workout over and leave your evening free for family time and any grading you may have.

2. Join a gym. This is one item in your budget that will be well spent. There are many gyms with various types of packages offered for single or family members, such as Life Time Fitness or XSport.

3. If joining a gym is not an option, exercise at home. There are many body weight routines available online. If you can push yourself through some crunches, push-ups, squats and toe raises at home, you’re off to a great habit. For a comprehensive compilation of home exercises in one convenient place, check out the world’s largest interactive list of over 200 calisthenics exercises HERE at Man vs. Weight.

4. Incorporate more movement during the school day. Take the stairs more often, go talk to colleagues across the building rather than sending emails and make an excuse to walk around the hallways or outside of the building during a free hour. I see some staff members partaking in regular walks every day during their lunch hour. Movement encourages thought, and this can be a great way to problem-solve or generate new ideas. If you really want some motivation, invest in an activity tracker such as a Fitbit.

5. Plan grocery shopping and prepare as many meals as you can over the weekend. I never have time during the week to ponder over meal plans so this is key to keeping me on track with healthful eating. Chances are your grab-and-go meals are going to be much more unhealthful than your planned ones. I peruse favorite magazines or sites such as Clean Eating for healthy recipe ideas, write down ingredients I don’t have at home and take my list to the grocery store.

6. Consume caffeine earlier in the day before noon. There are many benefits to drinking coffee but doing so earlier in the day will help you fall asleep more soundly.

7. Get regular sleep – this one may be the toughest!  You may think you are doing your students a favor by finishing that grading in one particular night but you will undoubtedly do a more thorough job as a wide-awake individual. Studies show this is true.

8. Drink water throughout the day. Stay hydrated. Perhaps keep a thermos at your desk. Yes, we live by the bell but, hey, if you have to run to the restroom in-between periods, that’s another opportunity for movement!

2013-05-18102329 (1)

The very infrastructure of a teacher’s day does not cater to our health needs so it’s important that we’re cognizant of all we can do to remedy our time management and stress levels.

Try some of the steps above and you will have more energy for life both in and out of the classroom. Moreover, you will be setting a better example for your students, and will feel more positive about yourself and your life in general.




Trust Without Borders

January 2, 2015 by  
Filed under My Writing

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders” ~Hillsong in “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

When the clock struck midnight this New Year’s 2015, I recited my resolutions just like everyone else but decided to up the ante this year. Sure, I have two major career and achievement goals that are important and that I will accomplish  (renewing my National Boards and renewing my administrative certificate); but, my ultimate resolution this year is much more life changing.  That resolution is illustrated beautifully – literally and figuratively – in this video shared by Equinox on their “Q by Equinox” fitness site.  This is a very informative site and must be checked out, by the way:

As Sheila Monaghan beautifully describes on the blog:  “If any piece of fitness equipment could serve as a metaphor for an ideal relationship, it might just be the ViPR: It strengthens your individual weaknesses, corrects your long-held imbalances, allows you to move more freely and powerfully in the real world, and—provided you’ve invested time and laid the proper foundation—inspires you to create quite the beautiful flow.”

 **Side Note: –  As I look ahead to the coming weeks, I’m mentally and physically preparing myself for two upcoming foot surgeries.  These surgeries only add more conviction and motivation to bounce back strong, overcome obstacles and achieve my ultimate goal.  Years of ballet training and pointe shoes along with my inherited tendency for bunions leads me to the dreaded surgeries I’ve wrongfully put off for too long.   I’ll be keeping a journal, reflecting on my trials, tribulations and recovery – beginning on surgery Day One HERE.   It’s my way to incorporate my passion with writing, fitness and blogging all into one.

So, my resolutions are to rid myself of the weaknesses in my feet and gain the strengths to flow freely with another soul strong enough to perform that Vipr dance above, literally and figuratively.  I’m ready – ready to give and receive trust without borders. I’m not stopping until I do!

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  This is my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotation – it represents courage, perseverance, tenaciousness, and faith.  This mindset represents me this year and always.

Humane or Insane?! – My Skunk Stay

November 30, 2014 by  
Filed under My Writing

I’ve long since shown my students these photos but I’ve been horrible this school year with keeping up with my own personal blogging site.  Maybe it’s the cold weather that makes me turn to nature.  Maybe I just want to show off these pictures.  Maybe I’m just a bit crazy and okay with sharing some of that craziness.  Whatever the case,  I devote my first of this new batch of blogs to Skychi, Gronda, Buente, Oka, Cincy, Gwtine, and Bwit!  

Seven inhabitants welcomed themselves around my home this past late spring and early summer.  Most folks would not take so kindly to these guests and my neighbors really hoped I evicted them stat.

I, on the other hand, err on the patient side of life so these creatures stayed with me for their needed nesting duration before moving on to greener pastures.

Long story short, these seven black and white furballs invaded uninvitedly but exited peacefully.  My niece uniquely named them:   Skychi (Mama Skunk)  and her children Gronda, Buente, Oka, Cincy, Gwntine, and Bwit  (she wanted to be sure I spelled them correctly here).  


Mama with one of her young - about 2.5 mos old here

Mama with one of her young – about 2.5 mos old here

Apparently, Mama Skunk and her babies felt completely safe around my home during their residency because they did not spray once.  They were quite quiet, actually.   I refused to cage them . . . not only is that inhumane, that would guarantee a stubbornly stinky spray session.  Rather, I waited for the six darling babies to grow and leave the burrow they called home under my home.

I looked at the situation more as an unexpected summer science research project and learned a bit about these creatures:

  • Skunks are naturally docile and only spray when they feel threatened.
  • They have MAD digging skills!!!
  • Mothers take very good care of their young. Skychi took her young ones out faithfully each evening around 9:45 for a quick leg stretch.  That duration became longer as they grew (and grew quickly they did!)
  • They sleep all day.
  • They are not disturbed by noise during the day.  On some days, I’d have friends sitting next to the hole, talking but neither hide nor hair from the skunks.  They were used to certain voices, I think!
  • The little ones don’t seem to realize their spray capabilities until they leave the nest.
  • Mama Skunk keeps them nested until three months old – she arrived late April, had her babies, and left with her clan in late July.
  • Skunks hate cayenne paper and onions!
Peeking out!

Peeking out!


Today, all holes have been professionally inspected and re-sealed very carefully with cement; I don’t think I’ll be graced with a repeat visit nor do I want to take a chance.  (I think I just got lucky with an extremely docile group).   My neighbors now talk amusingly about my summer hosting!  No one was sprayed so everyone’s content . . . and amused!!


One big happy, sweet family!

One big happy, sweet family!


Cute faces that I couldnt cage. I just held my breath that theyd hold the spray!!

Cute faces that I couldnt cage. I just held my breath that theyd hold the spray!!

Startling sight, but no spray to my delight!

Startling sight, but no spray . . .  to my delight!

First encounter/photo shoot with Mama Skychi

First encounter/photo shoot with Mama Skychi

Children are LOVE

August 11, 2014 by  
Filed under Listing through Life

I’m on the heels of a restful, soul-searching summer – mostly offline.  I’m about to start a brand new, very exciting school year – mostly online (district-wide 1:1 happiness!).  I’m sooooo excited about the new building, students, innovations, discoveries, classes, relationships, it goes on!!!!!   BUT before I go back, I must write a few posts.  Here’s the first pre-school post (truly, no pun intended):

Last week, I was lucky to fly home with my 4-year old niece, after visiting family in California, and host her for a few days of quality auntie/niece bonding!!  For the record, this was her first trip without either parent and she was completely patient on the delayed red-eye we endured!! Watching and caring for her this past week reminded me of some valuable life lessons I first learned years ago raising my now 22-year old daughter.

Waiting patiently at the gate for our delayed flight. : )

Waiting at the gate patiently for our delayed flight. : )

Lesson #1: Children do everything with love.  My niece, Skylar, lives love!  Whether making a craft out of whatever artifact she can get their hands on, baking cookies with extra sparkle for mom and dad, building a block house for Froggie, singing at the top of her lungs to one of many songs she knows by heart or simply jumping up and down with glee, I see her doing it all with LOVE.   Her love is pure, innocent and expressed whole-heartedly without worry over hurt or shame. Case in point, upon waking during her first morning at my home, my niece exclaimed in her bubbly articulate way, “Auntie T, I had a dream that I loved you so much that all around me was love, love love – SO much love I could hardly speak.”  This is word-for-word from her . . . I know because I was so enthralled I instantly grabbed a pen and wrote down what she said!!! My niece expresses what she feels and is not afraid to do so. Imagine the wholesomely sincere relationships if we lived more genuinely.

Dance - even when everyone is watching!

Dance – even when everyone is watching!


Lesson #2: Children live in the moment.   They are not ashamed of the past; they are not worried about the future. They enjoy what they are experiencing NOW for what it is.   Very young children are completely present with what they are experiencing and feeling.  They do not worry about what comes next, what others think, or what they look like – they just are. Caring for my niece was great practice in enjoying the moment and realizing the beauty and wonder in the seemingly small things.  Shapes of clouds, words to songs, colors of forks become subjects of deep conversation.   Imagine the dissonance dissipated if we lived more presently.

Sky exploring the sky!!!

Sky, exploring the sky!!

Lesson #3: Children play all the time. Play is how young ones learn and discover.  They laugh all the time.  They instinctively understand the concept of “You think, therefore you are.”  In other words, their imaginations are very powerful.  They are very creative individuals. I really see the wheels turning and the excitement forming when my niece states something like, “Okay, you be the student and I’ll be the teacher.  Let’s pretend it’s show & tell . . . . . ”   Imagine what we could accomplish as adults if we kept that powerfully confident creativity.

Her expression reveals her inquisitive disposition

Her expression reveals her inquisitive disposition

As I begin a new school year, I am going to try very hard to hold on to the value of genuine expression, the value of being fully present and the value of play to learn and discover!!   While my students are a good ten years older or more than Sky, these are important life practices to model and practice as we venture on our educational journey.  I’m so grateful and blessed to spend time with my young niece, watch my grown daughter bloom and share happiness with family and friends.  Each special person teaches us something – whether it’s a lesson easy to swallow or hard to hold, we learn, grow and become better individuals through the trials and joys we experience with each other.   Love, live, play . . . one step at a time!!

**For Sky MC ~ You’re a sky full of stars!!  I love you very much!

A life-size Lite-Brite wall!! (at Barrington Area Library)

Find ways to light up your world!

Take each obstacle one stump at a time!

Take each obstacle one stump at a time!

Graduation to Life

July 2, 2014 by  
Filed under My Writing

It’s been a month and a half since my daughter graduated from USC!!  Wow, it’s still sinking in that I’m the mom of a college graduate.   As I type this, I just got off the phone with her, on the heels of her first business trip.  It’d be unprofessional (and perhaps contradictory to some of the words below) to brag like I REALLY want about her dream job that she landed a week after graduation, so this overly zealous mom will try very hard to focus this post on a significant event celebrating her and her peers’ accomplishments.

Bovard Auditorium at University of Southern California

Bovard Auditorium at University of Southern California

Graduation weekend still replays in my mind and always will.  Dare I say it’s an accomplishment, in an itty-bitty way, for parents who raised these accomplished graduates too.  I still spot tweets about commencement addresses that continue to resonate so I don’t think I’m too tardy in posting about this now.  

On-campus prep for graduation day!!!

Prep for graduation day!!!  . . . Breathtaking campus – with or without the tents!

One of the amazing experiences was attending the USC 2014 Baccalaureate Ceremony, a non-denominational, inter-faith celebration, on Thursday, May 15th, evening before graduation.   While we had the pleasure of listening to three commencement speeches before the weekend was over, Rainn Wilson’s keynote speech of the evening, “The New American Dream:  Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Service” is the one that resonates most with me.  Listening to his speech was particularly poignant for my family as we’ve watched “The Office” religiously since Season 1; Dwight is one of my daughter’s favorite T.V. characters – she still has her Dwight bobble-head!!  Sitting in the front row only added to the blessing of being able to attend!  HERE’s the speech in its entirety.  It is worth your eighteen minutes!

The following key points are as I digest them.  I really did want to take notes, as Rainn jokingly tells the audience to do.  But, articulating the major points of this speech now, after letting thoughts ruminate, is truly a cathartic experience in itself.  So I thank you, Mr. Wilson!!  You’ve helped my family through day-to-day stress years ago by providing truly fun entertainment on television; and now, you are providing thought-provoking philosophies to help us grow spiritually.

To open the presentation, Rainn Wilson candidly revealed that he came very close to canceling because he himself has been going through a rough month in his own life.  This instantly gave him powerful sincerity in the words he shares, believes and strives to achieve himself.  He is attempting to achieve these laws, admittedly with difficulty, within his own world.  Powerful!!

Speaking of powerful, he referred to prayer as the most “powerful force in the universe” and I’ve since used that phrase aloud myself in a number of conversations with a couple folks who are also going through a rough time.  I believe this is true.

Rainn outlines the majority of the speech with laws for happiness but quickly declares how much he actually despises the word, happiness.  It seems to connote a fleeting choice that is outside of ourselves.  He compares happiness with eating cotton candy (which I’ve been known to inhale, so I related well to the fleeting sensation).  Like cotton candy, happiness gives us a high when we digest it but we almost immediately crash, wanting more fistfuls to keep us satisfied.  Joy, contentment, serenity are all words he likes better that connote more permanence.  These words more specifically refer to perspectives and beliefs within us.  Bottom line, this man knows a thing or two more than just paper.  His words are wise and real.

Trojan Cupcakes for dessert!!!

Trojan Cupcakes at the evening’s dinner!

Rainn’s Laws of Happiness Contentment (as corrected by Mr. Wilson himself) ~ He pointed out that these laws have been proven by science, psychology, theology and he, in turn, quotes numerous scientists, psychologists, and theologists throughout his speech:

1.   Happiness is not an if/then proposition.  If/then equations never meet our ultimate needs or fulfill our true standards.  Happiness is cotton candy – it’s sticky and dissatisfying.  Real happiness is found inside of ourselves, a choice that we make from within.    If/then decisions such as these only lead us wanting more:  (If I make _____ amount of $$, then I will be happy; If I become a ________, then I will be happy; If I marry _______, then I will be happy.). Happiness is not outside of ourselves or even something to be pursued, Rainn goes on to say.  Happiness is not defined by any thing or any person or any entity; it is a state-of-mind.  I believe this is true.  Choosing to view all life experiences as positive is a choice that leads to contentment, not necessarily the life experiences themselves (which eventually end) being the contentment.

2.  “Desirelessness” can set us free.  Rainn goes on sharing that desire leads to dissatisfaction whereas non-attachment leads to joy.  Physical happiness is limited; spiritual happiness is eternal.  According to the actor’s testimonials, spiritual beings have more human experience. Those who are spiritually engaged are far happier than those who are not because they are searching from the inside out rather than the outside in.  In his explanation, Rain explains that we constantly long for permanence in a world that is impermanent in every way – we ourselves are not permanent pieces of this earth.  Nothing remains the same.  Suffering, therefore, lies within any outside attachment.  When we detach from whatever is outside of us, we are free to be content.  We are so much a part of this outside world and are constantly bombarded with commercialism, as Rainn refers to, with societal pressures, with getting ahead and with wanting more.  Detachment from these things does not mean being uncaring, lazy or laissez-fair; it simply means not letting these things we can’t hold forever make us forget what we can hold on to – our beliefs and values.

3.  Live in the spirit:  Concentrate on the divine, spiritual part of who you are and you will find true satisfaction, according to the man previuosly known as Dwight.  Live in your soul.  To me, this means search for what inspires you, search for what makes you want to create, search for what you love – and you’ll never “work” a day in your life.  I don’t!

4.  Have an attitude of gratitude:   For this law, Rainn referred to his digital media company, SoulPancake ,and an experiment they conducted titled  “The Science of Happiness.”  I’ve been following his channel for quite some time.  There are numerous videos on this channel that are very useful supplementary material to share – – -hits-you-in-the-heart messages.  Rainn goes on to say that complaint is easy and, similarly, cynicism is easy to fall back on.  I personally know a couple souls who I believe truly feel more comfortable living within cynicism.  They don’t take gratitude and good fortune with nearly as much grace as they deserve to.  As Rainn stated, gratitude takes work – this I know firsthand but I also know firsthand that gratitude has the best payoff! I am genuinely grateful for all I’ve experienced, given and received – and I am trying very hard to openly express that gratitude much more often to more people.  Rainn Wilson is correct:   Think of something you are grateful for, share it and your heart will soar.

5.   Be here now! Live in the moment  . . . do not anticipate troubles, do not live in the past, do not be anxious over the future, do not live in your head or on your phone.  We need to live in the moment!!  I can’t tell you how depressing that too-familiar downward posture looks when I see a person peeled to his or her phone.  He or she misses so much!  Everything we need is right here, right now.  The past and future are illusions . . one is a dream, the other hasn’t happened yet.  I love this one!!  It prompts us not to worry about that which we have no control.

6.  The greatest meaning you will find in life, you will find in service to others.  Ironically, the more we search for ourselves, the less likely we are to find ourselves.  The more we search for God and our fellow man, on the other hand, the more we find ourselves.  Self-esteem, life satisfaction, sense of community is brought to light by service to others!  Show kindness, sacrifice time & energy – this is what life IS. The best way to combat a bad mood or even depression is to serve others – whether that means a full-out volunteer position at your local animal shelter or simply baking banana bread for your super wonderful, next door neighbor.  “In this me-me-me culture,” Rainn Wilson warns, “focus on yourself and you will find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others and you will find joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia”—a reference to the ancient Greek concept of happiness, which, Wilson explained literally means “human flourishing.”  Maybe this is why my job career lifestyle as a teacher does not feel like work.  We service some very special clients all day long – the students!  

With every speech (and every piece of writing), we take what we can and want to out of it, what works and resonates with us.  Each of the six “Laws of Contentment” speaks to me.  And unlike the character he played on T.V., Rainn Wilson didn’t need to pound on the podium or wave his arms around to get his point across.  Thank you, Rainn, for sharing your beliefs, your philosophies, your views, your care.  I am genuinely grateful!

Post-ceremony Dinner - delicious, elegant, joyous!

Post-ceremony Dinner – delicious, elegant, joyous!


To My Daughter

May 19, 2014 by  
Filed under My Writing

This is a rare, super personal post for me.  I debated posting it but am so utterly proud of the daughter I’ve been blessed to raise.  Below is the letter I presented her with (minus a few private details) on the day she graduated from college. Since posting this, my daughter continues to flourish. She’s enjoying her sixth year as a publicist in the film industry, recently earning a significant promotion. She travels globally for work  – and pleasure – … she’s living the life she dreamed!! Isn’t that every parent’s dream for his/her children?!


**Dear Daughter**,

I loved you before I ever saw you but felt you growing inside. The moment I caught glimpse of you on the evening

you were born, I fell in love all over again – your head full of all that

beautiful dark hair and your tan skin. I knew you’d be a dancer because you held

your hands and legs in the air, flexed and watched them intently the second

the doctor laid you down. You always were an intent human. Your innate,

remarkable concentration and focus amazes me to this day!   And, yes, while you shined in

many-a-recital growing up, you are truly dancing through life. You have a joie-

de-vie that people can’t help but like when they meet and get to know you. I’m

hearing that infectious giggle as I type this . . .

In you,  I saw all hopes and dreams for the future begin to

blossom. The first words I said to you when you graced this world were, “We are

going to have the best life together.” And we are!! While you are farther in miles

now, you are never far in my mind or heart. Raising you, I

tried to teach you to believe in yourself and give you wings. I taught you how to

fly the best I could – and look where you’re landing; you are thriving as a young

lady fervently pursuing her dreams and goals in a major city in another state!!


 I told you growing up and I’ll tell you now, you can achieve whatever

you want to. You have that indefinable it – and I’m not just saying that because

I’m your mom. Your achievements attest to your gifts. You are everything I

hoped a daughter to be when I was growing up myself dreaming about you.

Here is my wish for you: I wish that this life always brings you your wishes and

dreams coming true. I hope your worries stay small and you never have to carry

more than you can hold. This I wish for you today and always.

 Congratulations on your graduation from USC. This marks the beginning of the next fruitful chapter of the blessed life you lead.

I love you very much, dear daughter, and am so very proud of you. Love, Mom

Meeting John Green!

May 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Authors

“April showers bring May flowers.”  While the tulips in my front yard are finally peeking out and blooming their yellow petals, more than a few inspiring words have already been planted in my head during these opening days of May and will continue to impact me.

Case in point . . . On Friday, May 2nd, I had the honor of attending the 2014 Zena Sutherland Lecture at the Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago Public Library along with the wonderful Media Center Chair of the high school where I teach!  This year’s lecture was presented by John Green, New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and more.  Most recently, Mr. Green is named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014.

During his lecture, “Does YA Mean Anything Anymore?  Genre in a Digitized World,”  John spoke about the power of reading,  about the inspirations behind The Fault in Our Stars (soon-to-be released as a major motion picture), about benefits of both books and digitized text, and about inspiring reluctant-reading children.

Early birds get the good seats!

Early birds get the good seats!

The following are my interpretations of some resonating points from John Green’s speech.  (Italic words are from notes I scribbled during the lecture, followed by my own elaborations.)

1.  Reading allows us to get out of ourselves.  The world outside of ourselves is more vast than the world within ourselves.  Reading thoughts and experiences of others – even those fictional others – allows us to see that.  At times, we may feel as if we are the only ones in the world experiencing a certain problem; books, in fact, prove otherwise – every problem every person ever experienced has been written down somewhere.  Reading validates our thoughts.

2.  John Green wrote The Fault in our Stars as a book about sick people, not a book about the lessons healthy people learn from them.  In other words, he didn’t want the book to convey any clichéd messages about death reminding us how short life is.  Rather, he illustrates the true essence of struggles and emotions people living with a terminal illness face.   He describes the story as hopeful without being dishonest.

Telling Mr. Green about our students back home!

Telling Mr. Green about our students back home!

3.  John Green declared just how important it is for us as educators to frequent our libraries and bookstores to keep hard copies of books alive in many hands.    There is something concrete and personal about reading from a book that can’t be found within digital text.  What books can’t do, however, is provide an instant channel for two-way conversation.  Through electronic highlights and notes,  instant search engine access,  and easy chat with fellow readers, digital text provides constant accessibility that a book can’t.  There is value in both but one cannot completely replace the other nor should it.

4.  To our reluctant readers, John tells us to tell them that reading takes time. One can’t expect to instantly fall in love with reading after, say, one book.  Yes, it’s an investment – in time and in thought.   Wait, be patient.    The best part:  reading makes one a better person, a better friend, a better boyfriend (a particular motivator for Mr. Green growing up!), a better spouse, a better parent, a better teacher . . .  The more we read, the more we know.  The more we read, the more we understand and are understood.   Some of us inherently know this; some of us don’t.  That’s okay – books are available to all to use for personal interpretation and use!!

John Green and me

John Green and me!!

As I look over my post before I press “publish,” I notice it doesn’t nearly convey all the inspiration and excitement and hope I hold just as strongly now as from the moment my friend and I walked off of Floor 9 in the library.  It doesn’t show the brightness in my students eyes as I tell them I met you over the weekend.  It doesn’t give any of your books or vlogs or blogs any rage review that they each deserve.

Mr. Green, thank you for providing thought-provoking stories that speak to a wide-array of readers of many ages and backgrounds.   One of my students, also at this event, was literally shaking with nervous excitement as she spoke to you.  She’s read each one of your books and listened to some of your CrashCourse videos (while cleaning at home!) to prepare for an upcoming AP test.  Thank you for providing a voice teenagers can trust, a voice (from your words) that is “hopeful but not dishonest,” direct yet not harsh, and sympathetic but not lamenting.  We can’t wait to see what you share next!

 Here’s a link to a video John Green recorded and placed on Instagram the very next day after his time in Chicago.  It showcases a large crowd of fans, lined up and waiting for the first screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie,  screaming as John passes by. What truly makes me happy is the rockstar status he is gaining from his writing.  Writers Rock!!!

Let it Go

March 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Music

Congratulations to songwriting duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for winning an Oscar for their original song with “Let it Go” during the 2014 Academy Awards.

I recently Skyped with my 3 1/2 year old niece who fervently sings every word to this song (see our video below!).  What empowering lyrics for girls!!  The chorus alone repeating “let it go” gives message to relinquish control over that which is out of our grasps, lose fear that holds us back, and express ourselves without apologies.   Wow!!    It is truly music to my ears to hear a sweet, young voice such as my niece’s echo strong, declarative statements.  See the video at the bottom of this post that I recorded over spring break  . . . don’t play it too loudly, though, or you’ll hurt your ear drums because I can’t help but belt out a chord or two myself.

“Let it Go” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez

performed by Idina Menzel

(A+ for empowering lyrics coupled with a memorable tune) 

The snow glows white on the mountain tonight,
not a footprint to be seen.
A kingdom of isolation and it looks like I’m the queen.
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside.
Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!

Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.

It’s funny how some distance,
makes everything seem small.
And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!

Let it go, let it go.
I am one with the wind and sky.
Let it go, let it go.
You’ll never see me cry.
Here I’ll stand, and here I’ll stay.
Let the storm rage on.

My power flurries through the air into the ground.
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back; the past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go.
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn.
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand, in the light of day.

Let the storm rage on!
The cold never bothered me anyway…


GG and SkyMC!

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