Category Archives: Q2 –daring to be human

(365) Breathe It In


A year ago I visited the beach after reading Parker Palmer’s Five Questions. I had this idea to write a blog based on the Five Questions, and I went to the beach for discernment. It was there I felt the move to do the blog.

This past week I have been looking forward to getting this done. But then today, coming on to the site, going to click “Add Post,” I was overcome with sadness. It is the end.

There are many things I will miss about writing here every day. It was hard at first to be “out there,” but I have gotten used to it. I have appreciated my followers and the comments I have received. I have loved that this was a place I could struggle with the issues of aliveness-vs-fixed answers; what it means to dare to be human; the moments of human and natural beauty; looking forward to what to love next; and to uncover and discover and explore what creations are waiting to be birthed. The Five Questions will continue to travel with me, as they have become a part of me now.

WordPress sent me a review of my year. Here are some stats from them:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

There were 625 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 433 MB. That’s about 2 pictures per day.

The busiest day of the year was December 19th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was(353) Best Day Ever.

The stats don’t tell the full story, of course. Besides what I have learned from the Five Questions, I have learned a lot about what it takes to write every single day. For those thinking of starting your own daily blog, here are some insights:

  1. Don’t be afraid to write short.  At first I thought it all had to be long. It is impossible on a daily blog to write long all the time unless it is your only job. Don’t even try.
  2. You will feel like giving up.
  3. When you feel like giving up, keep going.
  4. Create categories to fall back on.  For example, I had my Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Parallels, Tributes, Lyric Series, and Micro Memoirs. These can help be having a frame to fill when you aren’t feeling particularly inspired.
  5. Know that whatever you decide to do with your daily blog, it is leading you somewhere you weren’t aware you were going. Words are a river that carry us. Your blog will carry you to unseen territory. Relish the journey. Know when to end, and gratefully disembark to a new destination.

This project has been extremely fulfilling to me as a writer, a teacher, a friend, and a human being. I have considered all kinds of directions from here.  I am committing myself to my music on a more structured basis. Just like with my writing, I’ve diddled around a long time not getting serious about music. Now that I have this fine year of blogging behind me, I can move forward on making music. And, as already discussed with my music teacher, I can use blog posts as fodder for songwriting. Win-win!!!

For some reason today, the song “Beautiful Like You” popped into my head.  I feel it is a good send-off for my blog. I will miss coming here and writing for the 2-100 of you who happen upon my blog. At the same time, I am looking forward to putting my time and mental energies into other areas. Meanwhile, remember to breathe and take time to look and listen to the world around you. It will reflect all the beauty you need in the moment.

I know. I’ve learned it through the Five Questions.

If you could only just stop, stop, stop running
If you could only take a second to breathe it in
Everything that you know would be beautiful like you

You know they’re never gonna stop, stop, stop your love
Let’s pretend that the world is waking up
Everything that we see is beautiful like you, like you



(362) Toastmasters

This is the “T” entry for Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  It is my final entry.


What It Is

Toastmasters International is a member-run organization that focuses on self-improvement through public speaking and its related activities. Local groups are formed and run by ordinary, every day people. Leaders are chosen by the clubs and everything related to club matters is done by the members. I belonged to a group called the Nordonia Gaveliers.

I joined Toastmasters because I had enjoyed debate and oratory when I learned it in middle school, and I knew I had an interest in that area. But the big reason I joined was because I was a business owner and felt that if I had to do any presentations, I needed to know what I was doing. In fact, I had given such a presentation to a Women’s Networking group and had an epic fail that really burned. Even after that, it still took me two years to get up the nerve to join. Besides being a big time commitment with weekly meetings, I was really going to take a big risk to get up in front of a group again.

I am forever glad I did.

My Experience.

Nearly every Monday night for ten years, I attended a Toastmasters meeting. These meetings consisted of three “official” parts — Table Topics, Speeches, and Evaluations. Table Topics enables members to practice speaking “off-the-cuff” about a topic they are given. The speeches are scheduled, planned, and practiced before being given. They follow a series of manuals that explain the elements needed in the speech, and a series of questions the evaluator uses to analyze how the speaker did on their speech.

I participated fully in the program. After my first 10 speeches in the “Communication and Leadership” manual, I was off and running into other specialized areas, including Storytelling, Special Occasion speeches, and Humor. It gave me a way to set goals, and continue to grow as a speaker.

TM manuals
Just some of the manuals that taught me a variety of ways to present.

Toastmasters is highly responsible for my ability to write in a way that is clear and concise. When giving a speech, everything needs to be clear so the audience can easily follow along.  I learned how to write my speeches vocally — rarely writing anything but a few key words down — which served me well for the speeches. However, it didn’t help me with the discipline of actually writing.  When I started college, I knew it was time to start putting things on paper. I guess the one thing I am sorry about is that I didn’t keep any notes.  The dozens and dozens of speeches I gave to Toastmasters are lost in time. There is no record.

Toastmasters taught me the importance of Roberts Rules of Order. It taught me how to deal with people when they are the most vulnerable. It taught me how to listen, as well as the importance of listening, and how nothing happens unless we listen well.

I found the most instructive part of the Toastmasters experience for me was learning how to evaluate others. Add to that, learn how to take evaluation. The idea of “constructive criticism” doesn’t set well with me, as the word criticism indicates negativity. In Toastmasters we learn how to evaluate fairly, always with an eye on those couple of things that could be improved. I also learned how to not be defensive about anything I said or did in a speech. I made my choices, and I took feedback for what it was — feedback. This has served me well in many situations in my life since then.

During my years with the club, I spent nearly five years as Vice President of Education, and a year as President. The club members waxed and waned, and yet a core group of us stood firm and kept things going. I never regretted any of the time I spent at Toastmasters because it gave more energy back than it required. I know that our club had some special elements to it that helped, and I’m grateful for that.


Of course that big part about being with a group like this is that we are all in it to win it. We all want to do well, and help each other do well. It isn’t a competition.

I met my friend Iris because of Toastmasters. She was trying to get a club started in her community, so began to come to our club for inspiration. I also become lifelong friend with Stacy, who now lives in Safety Harbor, Florida.

Stacy and I  Toastmasters Christmas party 1997

Our club had a cool “wings and beer” event after every meeting, which helped us form our bonds much closer. One of the places we frequented for a few years was called Angie’s.  It had a bar with a bowling machine and a jukebox.  I cannot hear “Love Shack” or “Atomic Dog” without thinking of my Toastmasters buddies, as we drank beer, played the bowling machine, and danced around the bar. It was a perfect way to unwind on a Monday night.

My club rallied around me when I had my cancer scare. Many of us liked to golf, so they pulled together a golf outing in my honor a week before I had surgery. There is so much more I can say about the relationships I built through Toastmasters, and how these people influenced me in a million ways. This blog just isn’t big enough for all of it.

The Helen Sadler Open, July 21, 1997  Twin Eagles Golf Course

Where It Led

Without a doubt, my connections in Toastmasters increased the likelihood that I would find my calling as a teacher. And once I did, it was a Toastmaster that helped open doors for me. Dave was a middle school principal, and he hired me to run a weekly leadership group of 8th graders to teach them public speaking. This was a wonderful opportunity for me, and helped me grow in additional aspects of the program. Working with young people was quite different than adults! The group even came to our club to share the speeches they wrote for their 8th grade graduation. It was a super special night.

Youth Leadership group from Southeast Middle School comes to Nordonia Gaveliers Meeting, May 1998

In addition, Dave put me in touch with a 7th grade Language Arts teacher, Judy Wilfong.  Judy and I wrote grants so I could bring storytelling units to her classes. We were successful in securing grants twice to make this happen. What was cool was that Southeast Middle was connected to the elementary school, which made it easy for the kids to perform their stories for the younger grades.

All of these experiences led me to my teaching career and helped me firmly plant my feet into it. In the time I was a Toastmaster I went from business owner to a college student. Without a doubt, the love and support from those in my club helped me immensely in this direction. I simply cannot measure what those years have given me.

When I gave my final speech during my farewell meeting on June 5, 2000, I used this poem as my guide. I felt like it said everything I couldn’t about my experience with the people and the process of Toastmasters.

I Was Afraid of Dying

By James Wright


I was afraid of dying

In a field of dry weeds.

But now,

All day long I have been walking among damp fields,

Trying to keep still, listening

To insects that move patiently.

Perhaps they are sampling the fresh dew that gathers slowly

In empty snail shells

And in the secret shelters of sparrow feathers fallen on the


(341) Make it Look Easy

When I entered college it was with much trepidation. I did not know if it would be possible to get through the math courses. I knew that if I failed those, any prospects of becoming a teacher were shot.

Then I met Kevin Lavrack.

He was a professor at Edison Community College when I took his Developmental Algebra course during the spring semester, 2001. This was the most expensive college course I ever took–it was 5 credits (not toward the degree) and I was still considered out-of-state resident. But this course would change everything.

Kevin Lavrack made math look easy. I can still remember him at the board, flowing through math problems, saying just enough each time to get it, but never confusing the issue.

The thing is, I only had him for four classes. Sadly, he and his wife got in a bad car wreck and he became a quadriplegic. Another prof had to take over the class. By then I was set. He had worked magic on me. I sailed through the rest of my courses, and was even invited to take Honors Statistics. My math curse was gone.

Lavrack did return to teaching. I have read articles about him–how his students say he can teach math better with no hand and legs than profs who have full use. And I believe it. I know what he did for me.

Today I am charged with teaching my students how to plan an essay. I know many of them “don’t believe” in planning. My job is to make it look easy–like the most natural thing ever. I don’t know if I will work any magic, but at the very least I can have the right attitude. It’s the least I can do in honor of those who have done so for me.

(339) Why No Blog?

Wondering why I’m not blogging today?  It isn’t for lack of creative ideas. I have a few.

But what I also have is a big headache for this coming week. You see, I’m responsible for teaching writing to students from very low reading level English Language Learners to students who are already reading at college level. I have barely three days to get them ready. I will not go into all the reasons why this hasn’t happened yet, as I really don’t have time to piss and moan about that.

The biggest frustration is complete lack of any decent teaching materials. I have a couple of books here from the textbook company that are supposed to help. They are TERRIBLE. The prompts given can barely be answered with the articles. This is an on-going problem, I know, and right now it is hitting me in the face.

Monday morning I have to be ready to stand up and confidently prep them for what is to come. I don’t have that confidence right now.

So, I need to take a pass on what I would like to be doing, which is pursuing a line of poetry that came to me in the night. It begins…There comes a time you leave a place. 

Hhmmmm.  There just might be a message there.

(337) Teeter-Totter

“I live like I know what I’m doing.” — Naomi Shihab Nye

This is an opening line of a poem. It felt like me right now.

I’m on a teeter-totter. Some days I really feel like I know what I’m doing.  Other days I find myself thinking I am so far off base, I don’t even know if I’m on the field any more.

Random thought over the weekend:

I want to stop saying stupid stuff to my students.

Yes, I thought that. It came out of no where.  It hit me in the head.

Yesterday I felt that once again they had pushed me to the edge and I said stupid, repetitive stuff.

How do I stop?  I have no idea.

And the worst part — they say the same repetitive, stupid stuff back.

If anyone is going to break this pattern, it will have to be me.

I’m still on the teeter-totter. I guess the first thing to do is to safely get off.


(334) I Believe in Red

Didn’t write this morning thinking I would have something to say this afternoon. After all, I was in full experimental mode with my kids.

But no…nothing much to report.

I was at work from 8-5…long day. Jim is making dinner because I’m fried.

Then I found this:


So I wrote my own:

I believe in red. I believe that fire is the best renewing agent. I believe in dancing, dancing a lot. I believe in remembering to breathe even in times of intense anger and stress. I believe authentic women are the most beautiful women. I believe all of our meetings are holy encounters. And I believe in miracles.

(326) Rebel Yell

Life comes with a series of passages. Some we recognize because they are grand and glorious — like high school graduation. Others are more subtle, almost hidden. These are the necessary losses and gains we traverse as we struggle through each decade. Today’s micro memoir is about one such subtle passage.

In the 1980’s I loved Billy Idol — so much so, that we went to see him at Music Hall in downtown Cleveland in the winter of 1984.  It was a bitter cold night, and I wore my blue fox jacket with my jeans because that’s how I rolled. Jim came straight from work and was dressed in gray flannel slacks and a camel jacket. When we got to Music Hall, security was checking everyone; I guess because this concert was considered on the “punk” side, they were worried about objects being thrown. We waited in line as they checked bags and coat pockets. When they saw us, the security guard said, “Come on in.” No check. We just walked right on in based on our appearance.

All I recall about the concert is that I loved the sound and the energy. Billy is a true showman. But at the same time it left a lasting impression in more ways than one. We were seated in the center lower balcony, and Billy kept being backlighted — brightly.  Those glaring lights pierced my eyes repeatedly, leaving a sandy feeling for a few days afterward.

I also knew that something else had changed. From now on I could be viewed as a “responsible” adult — one that wouldn’t cause a problem at a rock concert. I was too respectable to be a punk or a rebel. If that isn’t a right of passage, I don’t know what is.




(324) “into the presence of still water”

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Wendell Berry



(323) TRUST

Thursdays can be tricky for me. They are long days, starting early with a meeting that more often than not pushes some buttons in me. Enough said on that!

Yesterday I had time to read some of Nick Flynn’s book on teaching poetry. It has reminded me once again of my need to trust myself–my professional judgment and knowledge. Seems silly to have to keep coming back to that, but here I am once again.

My students have been writing acrostic summaries (thank you, Natalie, for the idea.) I decided to use the word TRUST and write my own summary.

Today I begin anew, once again

Remembering to trust my instincts

Unwilling to compromise what I know

Simply a matter of bringing myself back

To trust what I know to be true.

(322) Pop (Micro Memoir)

I recently attended a workshop with poet Kimberly Johnson at the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference.  She challenged us to find words that are “ours.” She said:

Words are the interface between the deeply particular and the general world.

I wrote about the word “pop.”

POP. A signifier. I moved to Florida and was attending college. Someone was looking for something to drink. I casually said, “There’s a pop machine around the corner.”  Heads snapped.

“Are you from up north?”

How did they know? I was clueless.

Then they told me.

I had said POP.