TURN THE PAGE by B.A. Dillon

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Two years ago I began writing my column titled “Turn the Page” for a very successful Atlanta monthly magazine called 85 South Out and About. I LOVE writing this column. I’m able to share a story or two, and then dispense some unsolicited advice. I’m over 50 now, I’m a senior, so I’ve earned that right. I cannot post the most recent articles, but can give you all a look back at some of my favorites. I’ll continue to post a new entry each month. Happy Reading!
B.A. Dillon

 


From March 2016
IGNITE your passion

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” Rumi

About five years ago I had the opportunity to attend a summer leadership conference that was designed for today’s educator. I had given close to 20 years to my career and with the encouragement of my principal decided it was time to investigate whether or not school administration was for me. During day one’s afternoon session, the presenter led an activity that helped each person identify their work leadership personality. The activity had all the boring stuff such as handouts and notes, but there was also movement, music, exercise and a great deal of fun. In the end I learned I was a teddy bear leader, and knew without question school administration was not for me. I can say with certainty, that seminar was my most productive professional development experience of my entire career. Shortly after, I began working on my Masters in counseling. I was a teddy bear – always ready and willing to listen to everyone’s problems, and that seemed like a natural transition. Two years later I passed my school counseling comps with flying colors and began preparing for the next stage of my career.

Now here’s where my path gets a little convoluted. Eight hours after taking my comps and before I knew any results I began writing again. That’s the night I discovered my passion for the written word.

On the day of my comps I walked out of the testing site and had a mini-mental breakdown. I sat in the parking lot for approximately an hour on the phone with my husband, balling like a big crybaby. You see, I was certain I had just flunked the biggest test of my life. Flunking the comps meant the thousands of dollars spent on two years of classes were a complete waste of time and money. Flunked test = no Master’s degree.

Before I could pull out of the parking lot, three of my school chums met me at my car sporting similar worried expressions and buckets of tears. Our group commiseration took us to a new local tea house/ice-cream shop called Aperio. I know . . . ice-cream? I would have rather drowned my sorrows in a big glass of wine, but ice-cream did the trick that humid April afternoon. Little did I know my visit to Aperio was about to change my life.

About forty-five minutes into our communal drowning of our sorrows, the manager introduced the first performer of the night. A.J. was his name. His hair was at least four distinct colors and his long dreads were piled high on his head. He wore heavy black eyeliner, and his overall expression seemed tired and angry. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t see any musical instruments, and the place didn’t appear to be a comedy house.

When A.J. first opened his mouth I nearly jumped out of my chair. “Hallelujah!” He shouted as his opening line. His dreary expression immediately brightened and shone as brilliant as his 4-color hair. I had no idea what I was witnessing, but soon learned I was experiencing my very first poetry slam. Over the next two hours, I laughed so hard, my stomach ached. I cried so hard, my mascara washed away. I experienced more emotion than my heart could possibly comprehend.

For the next two weeks, I checked the mail each day waiting for my test results, always with A.J. on my mind. During week three, I attended a screening interview for guidance counselor positions in my school district. I scored a 35 out of a possible 36, and mine was the highest score in the group. A week later my results came through on email and two days later I held my official results in my hand. I passed my comps with flying colors. Now all I needed to do was find a school who needed me. I thought of A.J. once again and wanted to scream Hallelujah!

During the last week of school that year, one of our counselors made a last minute decision to retire early. My principal encouraged me to apply for the job and I couldn’t wait to get started. At the school board meeting during that last week, the superintendent announced they were cutting several positions – including middle school guidance counselors. Not only did my dream job evaporate in a matter of minutes, there were absolutely no middle school guidance counselor positions anywhere in my district.

I went home from school that night, and poured everything I was feeling into the most emotional poem of my life. The lines were full of passion and many 4-letter words. I called it My School Boards Sucks. Not a very creative title. My experience at Aperio became the teacher and my counselor. About a week later I returned to Aperio with a friend for the next Slam open mic night. A.J. worked the counter that early June evening and I watched him encourage other amateurs on to the stage all night long. I never performed my piece on Aperio’s small stage, but I allowed A.J. to read my poem or what I like to call my rant. He gifted me a little advice, writing after my last line –“keep dreaming.” His words gave me so much strength and lit a fire in my belly. Without question – a moment I will treasure forever.

Instead of preparing for a new career in school counseling that summer, I returned to my writing journals. I also dove into reading, and fell in love with beautiful stories written by Tina Reber, Katie Ashley, Colleen Hoover and others. My children refer to that summer as “the summer mom did nothing but read.” Before I headed back to school that fall, I attended several webinars about novel writing and read a book about poetry slams by Colleen Hoover. I bought and read three books on self-publishing, and wrote in my journal about my dream every day. In August, I was offered the math department head position – more money than I would have ever made as a guidance counselor. With two kids in college I needed every penny. The rest of that year is a blur. I worked incredibly long hours – both at school and at home. But somehow, five months later, had penned over 90,000 words of another beautiful love story. My own. Even better – those words actually told a story about two people needing a fresh start – just like me. And now those events – a big scary test, a boy who performed poetry, and the need to keep dreaming tells my story.

Passion is a unique emotion. Most people immediately think of romance, but in reality passion is simply a feeling that motivates the human soul. Most of the time passion literally appears out of nowhere and typically makes its appearance at the most inopportune moment in time. But when a passion takes hold of a soul, she rarely lets go. My need to write is so strong now, I have to temper my passion with a huge dose of common sense each day.

So here’s the BIG question. Are you still in the process of discovering your passion? Or have you ever wondered where to begin?

First, everyone’s path is different. I’ve wondered on numerous ocassions how different my path would have been had I not walked through the doors of a little ice-cream shop called Aperio. Was that luck? Or simply my tipping point? In my mind, the universe was screaming at me that summer to pay attention to the signs. My strong emotional connection to performance poetry was the first sign, so I sat up and saluted. I read once when you need a change, your body and intuition will speak to you. They key? Listen.

If you’ve yet to find an activity, a career, or a life purpose that brings passion to your soul, I have a few simple tips to help in your search. I’m famous for this first one. Post a daily mantra on social media, and believe what you post. Today, the closet mirror in my office sports the quote, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mr. Mark Twain always delivers superb advice.

The next step has many parts. First, keep a journal of what you’re doing with your free time. Second, make a list of everything on that list that brings you joy. If it’s possible, dump the rest. Finally, for the next 30 days, inventory all of your awake time. Reflect upon what makes you happy and what sours your mood. Take note of any new activity you’d like to try and allow curiosity to get the best of you. Then try something new. Two years ago I tried Zumba. The exercise class is okay – but not my first choice. On a whim, I invited my friend Miriam to the next Zumba class at my gym. Three years later Miriam is a Zumba fanatic and on her way to becoming an instructor. She found her passion and my invitation to join me was the tipping point.

Fabienne Fredrickson said it best, “The things you are passionate about are not random. They are your calling.” You owe to yourself and to the rest of the world to ignite your passion and set your soul on fire. Seek and you shall find. Find your passion and be happy this year.

From February 2016

Turn the Page – February 2016

Passion Changes Everything

You just won the Powerball. What are you going to do next? Who out there had a plan?

January 16, 2016 will go down in history. That was the day when three lucky winners of our Nation’s Powerball Lottery found themselves holding a golden ticket.

With three winning tickets, the lump sum payout should be right around 187.2 million dollars. The most interesting twist? None of the winners will have to pay state taxes. Both Florida and Tennessee do not have a state income tax, and California has a decades-old law that exempts lottery winners from paying state tax. Instead the lucky winners will only pay 39.6% in federal taxes or about $74.3 million, leaving each winner with a paltry 112.9 million dollars.

Like everyone else on the days leading up to the historic evening, I had Powerball Fever. Questions were flying around the office, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regarding everyone’s plans. I must have answered that question – what would you do with millions – a dozen times. I was in my office Powerball pool 135 times. Hubby’s smaller office pool provided us 40 additional tickets, and we had a measly fifteen tickets between the two of us. In the end, Mark and I had invested $50 in the dream of winning the 1.5 billion dollar jackpot.

My dream included a month long escape to the islands of Fiji. If I had won, I planned on flying in a different group of people each week to help me celebrate. A South Pacific Island getaway has always been a dream of mine, but spending a month in the overwater bungalows with family, friends, and my author pals sounded like the vacation of a lifetime. My month long retreat even included a week with the hubs.

Of course my wish list included much more. I would have loved to surprise my family and closest friends with a mortgage pay-off, and also would have purchased my own secluded beach hideaway where I’d write my next novel. And like everyone else, I have a dream car. A cobalt blue Shelby Mustang. But after playing with a few million right away, I thought I would most likely follow a philanthropic path. Start a foundation . . . change a life . . . leave my mark.

I got to thinking about how much money people were willing to part with hoping to cash the winning ticket. Remember – the lottery takes in TWICE the prize. That means over the course of about three days the citizens of this country spent $3,000,000,000 on lottery tickets. Let that sink in for a moment.

Now let’s dig deep and imagine.

According to CNS News, approximately 110,000,000 U.S. citizens currently receive some measure of welfare. It is believed now that more people depend on government assistance each year than work a full-time job. So what if we changed that? In approximately sixty hours, American citizens raised more than three billion dollars purchasing Powerball tickets. Three billion dollars would pay for more than 500,000 students, maybe our welfare recipients, to earn an Associates Degrees at a local community college.

Hang on – I have a pretty decent imagination.

Water. A clear necessity for life. Our government has spent BILLIONS exploring space looking for water. Trust me. Frozen polar caps and now running liquid water on Mars and water vapor on Venus were both pretty big discoveries. Although water is a renewable resource, a growing population most definitely puts a hefty demand on the supply. Using a reclaimed water source conserves the drinking water supply. Reclaimed water is primarily used for watering lawns and landscape and typically has few restrictions. Further, less fertilizer may be required when irrigating with reclaimed water. And, reclaimed water is less expensive than drinking water. Three billion dollars would cover the cost of installing and operating a reclaimed water system to approximately 6,000,000 homes.

Not a fan of the environment? What about educating the nation’s youth?

It is projected that approximately 50 million students are enrolled in public school this year. With three billion dollars we could put about 4,000,000 new laptops or iPads in the hands of our kids. Three billion dollars would also put an additional 60,000 teachers in classrooms. Or even better – free wifi around the nation. Corpus Christi, Texas spent $7,000,000 to create a municipal hotspot many years ago, and now more U.S. cities are jumping on that bandwagon. Three billion dollars could subsidize a project of this nature for over 400 medium to large cities.

Have you figured out where I’m going with this yet? Let’s chat healthcare.

I have no intention of trying to solve the 30 billion things wrong with the healthcare system in this country. But I would like to make two points. Three billion dollars would easily cover the cost of two complete physicals each year for every man, woman, and child living without insurance. The average out-of-pocket cost for a physical runs $50-$200 on average. The National Library of Medicine reports an annual physical for an adult should include cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, vaccinations, testicular or prostate exam for men, and a breast exam for women. With a physical, doctors also frequently provide weight-loss or other lifestyle counseling. It is believed our nation’s overall healthcare costs would decrease if everyone had at least an annual physical and typical screening tests. The earlier a disease is diagnosed, the more likely it can be cured and in most cases successfully managed at a lesser cost. If that were in play, maybe we wouldn’t need a national insurance program.

If you haven’t guessed by now, numbers really speak to me. Powerball fever enticed the people of this nation to reach inside their wallets and spend about $10 per person on a 1 in 292 million chance of winning the historic jackpot. Less than a dinner out, a night at the movies, or a tank of gas. THREE BILLION DOLLARS. I am blown away by that number, but stunned even further that this money was raised in less than four days.

So now, imagine if everyone put that amount of money into solving a problem that plagues our nation. A welfare system overrun with capable but undereducated men and women who more than likely were raised on government assistance. Perhaps a cycle that needs to be broken. An environment that is being pushed to its limits to support a population that rarely stops to reflect on what we are stripping from mother earth. Educational policies that are dictated by the bottom line and test scores rather than the growth of our children’s minds and hearts. Are we really thinking about future generations? A healthcare system that seems to encourage illness over wellness. A system that pushes drugs over offering a gym membership. The phrase an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure springs to mind.

My message this month was hidden behind a lot of numbers. Three billion to be exact. But if you push those numbers aside, the lesson is right in front of us all. As a population, we can do amazing things when we ban together for a cause. It might take a little money or a little time – but just imagine if we all deposited ten dollars and one hour per week into the wishing well. We could change almost anything with a little fire in our belly, a dream in our heart, and a purpose for the life we have been given. William Shakespeare said it best. “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of this life, is to give it away.” Find your passion and be happy this year.

From December 2014

December 2014

Turn the Page by B.A. Dillon

My Greatest Gifts … My Gifts to the World

The following passage is part of an essay I wrote more than thirty-five years ago. My dad always included a Christmas message with the cards he mailed each holiday season, and inn 1976, he asked me to write our family message. Here’s a snippet of what my seventeen year old self had to say.

As the Christmas season draws near, the true importance of the time seems to become less important. Department stores start blinking their lights and hanging their garland at Halloween. Every commercial between my favorite shows is about a new toy, or a Christmas sale at J.C. Penney’s. It seems such a shame that kids cannot enjoy “Trick or Treat” or Grandma’s Thanksgiving turkey without everyone worrying about what to get little Joey or Susie, before all the stores are sold out of “Baby Wets” and extra large shirts for over six foot males. Everyone is a victim of Christmasitis and frankly it just is becoming a real pain in the neck.

First, I can’t tell you how hard it was to type that passage EXACTLY as it was written so many years ago. I wanted to correct every punctuation error, grammar error and poor word choice my seventeen year old self made. Instead I delivered that passage exactly as it was delivered in my parents’ Christmas card from 1976 … to make a point.

The holiday has been commercialized for a long, long time. And guess what? That’s never going to change.

In 2011 Forbes magazine published an article with some astonishing data. The article reported that in the United States, over $450 billion is spent during the month of December every year. What’s even more shocking is according to the World Bank, an estimated $20 billion would solve our global water crisis. That’s only 5% of what Americans spend on Christmas each year.

In a survey reported by Pew Research Center, 52% of Americans are bothered by the commercialization of Christmas. Contrary to that survey, most Americans (79%) believe their holiday would be just as fulfilling without spending a great deal of money. However, most Americans will spend between $750-$900 on gifts and seasonal items this year.

Many businesses survive simply for the holiday season. My husband and I at one time owned a Pakmail franchise. To be honest, without holiday shipping in November and December we would not have been in business more than six months. We had to “make hay while the sun was shining.” Sorry … the Ohio girl in me just snuck out.

I can’t imagine Christmas without Santa, or the aroma of a fresh cut Christmas tree. I wait with bated breath to watch my block be electrified with thousands of white lights so gloriously each December. The holiday band, orchestra, and chorus concerts at my school always lift my spirits. This year, I’ve been asked to dress as an elf and read a beautiful Christmas tale as part of the band concert. And believe it or not, I actually look forward to that glass of eggnog.

Just as the holiday brings the masses to the stores, it also brings communities together. Every year, many businesses, schools, and organizations host toy drives, supporting needy families. Holiday decorations and concerts energize local communities, bringing people together in the spirit of the season. Generosity is sparked as school kids work local soup kitchens and visit residential homes for the elderly.

The Christmas holiday continually brings families together as well, sometimes building bridges between family members, healing old wounds and family tiffs. Parents spend time with their children playing new games, guiding first bike-rides, and maybe even shooting a few hoops.

So how do we restore faith in the holiday itself? Maybe relishing in the Christmas spirit is simply enough. Maybe recognizing what gifts life delivers is enough. Maybe ‘paying it forward’ for life’s simple blessings might deter the commercialization just enough to restore the faith.

My greatest gifts are my children, Caroline and David. And now that they’re adults, I have gifted them to the world.

Caroline, a Peace Corps volunteer is serving in Lesotho (Africa) right now. She’s working with kids who have lost their parent(s) to HIV. We’ve celebrated 27 Christmases together, and I remember every single one. She won’t be home this Christmas, and it will be our first holiday apart. I will miss her like crazy, but I’m sure she’ll find a way to brighten some child’s life. I mailed her a box with what she said she needed. Body wash, dental floss, and underwear. I tossed in several card games, a box a Stovetop Stuffing mix, and a flash drive containing every Christmas song from my iTunes playlist. For the record, there were 187 songs. I’m sure on Christmas day we’ll both cry and wish we were together, but I have gifted her to our world, and it is time for her to start sharing her gifts.

David, my very brilliant son, will be home with his girlfriend. He’s in transit moving from Fort Payne Alabama back to Orlando Florida where he is a mechanical engineer. He’s learning all about how to make energy from the very renewable resource we know as wind. Imagine the changes his work will make for our world. A clean energy source that has no residual pollutants, taken from a renewable resource that can create all the electrical power you or I will ever need. For a few days, life at home will almost seem like old times. He’ll sleep all day, and stay up most the night. He’ll make too much noise, and leave his room a mess. While he’s here he’ll eat me out of house and home and I’ll love every minute of it. When the holiday is over, I will send him on his way because I have gifted him to our world as well. According to his mother, he’s brilliant and going to solve lots of the world’s problems.

When I was 17 years old, my writing career began when I wrote my family’s Christmas message in 1976. My message transcends time because the words are still relevant today. I’m closing with my final paragraph from that 1976 (unedited) message.

Well, the New Year comes with its different ways of celebrating. But almost everyone makes a New Year’s resolution. So, make yours I’ll work ten times harder, get a raise, and pay off my Christmas debts. The sarcasm shows I’m sure. Seriously now – make yours to live each day as it comes and maybe every day just a little more like Christmas day. Live happy and humble lives. But most of all have a very joyous and safe holiday. And remember to sit down and thank God for what He has given you. The art to love and to be loved. Because it all began with … for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.

When I presented my typed (yes, from a typewriter) message to my dad, I watched him read with tears in his eyes. My mother actually cried. With pride, they mailed my message to every single person on their Christmas list. I have many special memories that have steered the direction of my life, and this one is in the top ten. Having my parents believe in my message – their best gift ever.

Suggested reading – The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans

B.A. Dillon, 55 years old, lives in Tampa, Florida. She is a dedicated middle school teacher who earned her BS in Education from George Mason University and a MS in School Counseling at Argosy University. Dillon’s debut novel, Tethered Through Time, is available for Amazon/Kindle, in print at Amazon and CreateSpace, Barnes & Noble Nook, and iBooks. Dillon’s companion novel, A Vision in Time, will be available in early 2015. Dillon also writes for the blog www.gonereadin.com Follow B.A. Dillon @BADillon520 (Twitter), https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8269892.B_A_Dillon (Goodreads) https://www.facebook.com/BADillon520?ref_type=bookmark(Facebook)


From April 2015

There’s no PLANET B . . .  by B.A. Dillon

UNLESS someone like you

Cares a whole awful lot,

Nothing is going to get better

It’s not.

-The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I saw a sign the other day that caught my eye. I should have taken a picture of it, or written down the words because it was full of sarcasm – and I LOVE sarcasm. The sentiment of the message described the following. What if trees gave off Wifi signals? Our society would be planting so many trees someone would probably be complaining that we had too many trees. But by planting so many trees, we’d probably save the planet in the process. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.

This year Earth Day falls on April 22, 2015 and marks the forty-fifth anniversary of how the modern world celebrates Mother Earth. The very first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 which activated more than 20 million Americans from all walks of life, and is recognized for launching the modern ecological movement. The passage of the legislation for Clean Air, Clean Water, and many other innovative environmental laws soon followed. From the first Earth Day, the Earth Day Network was established and partners with over 22,000 businesses and organizations in 192 countries to expand and rally the environmental movement. It’s reported than more than 1 billion people now partake in Earth Day activities each year, making it the greatest community celebration in the world

No matter what side of the political aisle you choose to sit on, I’m sure everyone would agree our planet, the environment, and its resources have been used, abused and battered.

If you disagree with that statement – let’s do a little math and talk garbage, water, and trees.

It is reported that each person in our country produces on average of 4.3 pounds of waste per day. That’s 1569.5 pounds per year. For the typical All-American family of four, that translates to over 6278 pounds of waste per year. My home is just one of the 215 homes that make up my neighborhood. Assuming the average household shelters four people, my neighborhood alone produces nearly 1,349,770 pounds of waste each year. The numbers are simply astonishing (Duke University, Center for Sustainability and Commerce).

What’s resting in our landfills is even more concerning. Our throw-away society tosses everything in the garbage including furniture, batteries, electronics, and chemicals. Technology advances and lower prices have made it so easy to replace picture-tube televisions, cell phones, and computers. Last year I gathered up all the laptops in our home no longer operational. We had seven. Unsure of what to do with them, I of course started with my friend “Google.” There are many companies that will buy older electronics. Additionally, they offer detailed directions on how to wipe the hard drive of all information, and even provide free shipping. Although it took awhile, I received a small check in the mail eight weeks later. What I couldn’t sell I donated to a friend’s retired dad who loves to tinker with new technology. In retirement, he works out of his in-home office rebuilding old laptops and CPUs. According to my friend, he’s found great enjoyment in learning about computer technology and his new hobby keeps him busy in retirement. If you’re unable to sell your older electronics, the Environmental Protection Agency’s website offers detailed instructions on how to recycle electronics and appliances.

When the well’s dry, we know the worth of water.

Benjamin Franklin

Seventy-five percent of our planet is water. 97.5% of that is ocean water with only 2.5% making up our fresh water supply. However, nearly 90% of this freshwater is not readily available, because it is trapped in icecaps of the Antarctic. Only 0.26% of the water in this world is available for human and animal use, and only 0.014% of this water can be used for drinking water production. Most of that water is stored in the ground. The most frightening statistic revolves around usage. Most Americans use approximately 400 gallons per day. Based on the amount of available water for human consumption and the current world population – every person’s share is around 2.5 gallons per day. On average, Americans use 160 times more water than their fair share (http://www.nationalgeographic.com/).

Water conservation must be in the forefront of everyone’s daily thoughts. There are several simple acts we can do each day to reduce the amount of water used in the home. If you shorten showers by two minutes, that will save up to 150 gallons of water per month. Save an additional 25 gallons a month by turning off the water while brushing your teeth. Nearly 22% of indoor home water use comes from doing laundry. Save water by making sure to adjust the settings on your machine to the proper load size. Xeriscape your garden beds with hearty plants that require less water, and look into installing rain barrels throughout the garden for water collection and storage.

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
From Trees by Joyce Kilmer

Approximately 30% of the planet is covered in forests. Deforestation is the felling of trees or removal of forests. The expansion of agricultural lands, especially for grazing cattle, is the number one cause with 1.5 acres of forests in the being leveled every minute. It is predicted that all rainforests will cease to exist in approximately 100 years considering the current rate of deforestation. Soil erosion, floods, wildlife extinction and climate imbalance are just a few of the effects of deforestation. Forests are cleared for other reasons as well. The timber and paper industry is a big business accounting for 30% of deforestation. Road expansion and urban development have also led the felling of many acres of forests throughout the world (http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/various-deforestation-facts.php).

Deforestation is a little more difficult for us to fight from the comfort of our homes, but little steps are better than none. As a teacher, I encourage and accept some assignments online and avoid the paper trail completely. When my children were in college, we rented textbooks rather than purchasing them. Recycling junk mail, shredded paper, magazines and newspapers daily is the best gift you can give. Finally, purchase products made from recycled paper completes the cycle. And of course there’s one more thing we can all do. Keep the trees around your home healthy by trimming them regularly or plant new trees if you have the space.

Now if my little essay has you thinking, what else can I do, or how I can I help bring about change, think about connecting with the Earth Day Network.

Earth Day Network’s A Billion Acts of Green® has sponsored over ONE BILLION acts of green since its inception and pledges to reach TWO BILLION. Their mission is simply to inspire and reward both individual and larger organizational acts that reduce carbon emissions and support sustainability. Their website offers many suggestions of what an individual can do today. All they need is for people like you and me to lend our voice to a campaign. Pledge to start composting, stop your junk mail, buy local produce, turn down the thermostat on the water heater, or stop using disposable plastic. Their website posts more than 25 campaigns that any American family could support (http://www.earthday.org/takeaction/index.html)

Don’t ever let someone tell you that one person can’t make a difference! The truth is that for centuries it has always been the action of one person that inspires the action of many. After reading this, if I’ve inspired one person, I’ve done my job.

We all depend on the Earth – so the time to start taking care of it – is today! All we need is for every person to make one small positive change for the future of our planet. Making a change for the future of Planet Earth doesn’t have to include huge life changing choices. We can make a difference by employing a few simple lifestyle changes. After all, GREEN really is the new BLACK!

Through the Earth Day Network http://www.earthday.org/takeaction/campaigns.html

the Dillon family has pledged to:

  • Buy local produce
  • Compost (we already do this!)
  • Eat less meat
  • Support the Shaheen-Portman Bill
  • Reduce energy consumption
  • Adjust the water heater temperature
  • Slay vampire energy (look this one upJ)
  • Recycle eWaste
  • Support renewable energy

Suggested Reading – The Lorax by Dr. Seuss


From October 2014

Is this a trick … or a treat?

I love autumn. Fall is when the weather finally cools enough to enjoy a star-filled night on my back-porch, and when I plant bright orange and yellow geraniums in my front garden bed. My front yard reeks of color. There’s harmony in autumn. The hues are vibrant and change is imminent.

I began writing this column almost a year ago because I was at a point in my life where big changes were happening every day. For the most part, I was very excited about the next chapter in my life. While my kids were moving on with their lives, I was beginning a new one. My blog found success, my first book was on the shelves, and a second novel was in the works. Change is a good thing. I’m the champion of change. After all, if nothing ever changed, a beautiful monarch butterfly would still just look like a worm.

Over the course of the last two years, I elected to make changes in my life. I pursued a writing career, exercised more, watched less television, read more books, looked for adventure, and basically decided to approach every day with a positive attitude. Making big life changes is pretty scary. What’s even more frightening though is regret of change not made. I jumped into the big, bad world with both feet and didn’t care how hard I’d fall.

But recently reality sucker punched me right in the gut.

Without even realizing it, a mild depression snuck in a back door and made itself at home in my head. It wasn’t until today, when I finally decided what to write about this month, did I understand what happened. Now, don’t feel too sorry for me. My life is good. Actually, my life is really good. I’m pretty healthy for my age, I’ve turned out two amazing kids, and I’ve been married thirty years. I have a job or two or three – some that I love. I have a terrific family and amazing friends. Honestly, I feel bad … that I feel a little sad.

I’ve always identified myself as a teacher, and a good one at that. The past twenty-five years have flown by, and I’ve enjoyed every single minute. The last twelve years, I’ve lived in my own little piece of heaven. Room 308. I’ve taught sweet, amazing sixth graders who love to learn. This summer, the administration in my school decided I needed to be moved to seventh grade to teach two different math levels. Before school started, they added an eighth grade class to the mix. I moved upstairs where it is hot, hot, hot – all the time. I stopped eating with friends, and haven’t left school most nights before 6:30pm. Add in a heaping dose of the new Common Core Standards, new textbooks, new online attendance that rarely works – yet we’re required to use, a requirement to checkout consumable materials to students through a different online program, broken mini-blinds, and today my door handle broke off in my hand. I must be superhuman.

In addition to my teaching duties I am also the math department head for my school, and for the most part my department would say I’m an effective leader. This year, since everyone has new standards, new books, and new procedures I’ve continued to lead with a smile plastered permanently on my face, and a positive quote for the day. Until today. Today I broke. Today I opened my mouth and words began to fall. Before I knew it, I was blubbering like a great big baby.

By now, you’re probably thinking – quit your whining. Yeah, yeah … I thought that, too. In fact what I realized after my cry fest is that SOMEONE MOVED MY STINKIN’ CHEESE and I’m just having trouble dealing with the change. ME, the one person who welcomes change, invites it in to her life, and jumps into the big bad world with one huge leap.

Deepak Chopra wrote, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” And there it is in a nutshell – for the moment I’m living in a bit of chaos, and I know how to find my way back out of the black hole.

Reaction to change can sometimes mirror the reaction to death. The early stages of shock, denial, guilt, and anger tend to hang on for awhile. Anger has a hold of me right now. When talking with my friend today, I said, “I’m angry” about a dozen times. Anger is a waste of time. Tomorrow, I’m going to go hit some racquetballs. I’m going to plaster my anger all over that front wall.

I’m a talker. You might recognize that from the banter I put in print each month. It occurred to me today that I hadn’t yet shared my own feelings sufficiently. Communicating with supportive people can alleviate the stress associated with change. I’ve been listening to others, but hadn’t yet communicated how I was feeling. Today I talked with two colleagues who also happen to be good friends. I’m amazed how those conversations already shifted my way of thinking. Once it’s out, it’s gone.

Acceptance is always the last step, but the most important step to take. In every instance of change, we all need to recognize the obvious. Change is here. It happened. Move on. It’s a process and change takes time. When policies change, the worst thing we can do is keep bringing up the past. Sometimes our greatest challenges – leave us with the best lessons and end up making us stronger.

Choosing positive thoughts and attitudes about whatever is shifting will help build bridges to successful possibilities and opportunities. Our education system in this country needs change. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll just keep getting the same results. Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” Maybe, just maybe, jumping onto that construction crew to build something new might just set me down on a path that will lead to greatness. I came to a startling conclusion tonight. My best moments have come out of struggle and peril. These are the moments I learn my most valuable lessons.

The bottom line is really very simple. Change happens. This is the time of year we can really see change. Kids grow up and head back to school. Birds and ducks begin their migration south to stay warm during the winter. Football is back, and hubby wants to watch every college and pro game on the telly. I wasn’t sure if the start to my school year had been a trick … or a treat. But today, when Abi left my classroom she told me how happy she is I moved to the seventh grade. Then she gave me hug. Workplaces undergo changes in philosophy that will move your cheese. I won’t try to convince you change is easy, but what I can tell you … it’s just a piece of stinkin’ cheese!

Suggested Reading – Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard


From April 2014

Life is short … Do stuff that really matters

Today … I give you a lesson in poetry and philanthropy. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is my favorite poet, and one of my favorite poems is titled The Poet’s Tale; The Birds of Killingworth. In the twenty-eighth stanza this very long poem contains the line, “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.” With thirty stanzas, this beautiful passage reminds us what happens naturally every spring. Renewal, regeneration, and rebirth. After all, we’re in April … so April showers bring May flowers. Right?

Everyone, I mean EVERYONE is tired of the winter of 2014. This season has left most of the country with record-breaking accumulated snowfall, record-breaking school closings, and record-breaking traffic jams. Fellow teachers in the Midwest tell me they might get out of school by July 4th if they’re lucky. Everyone is in desperate need of a little “spring” in their step. So … when I mention this beautiful time of year, what’s the first thought that pops into your head? Flowers, Easter, raincoats, baseball, and picnics? Or do your thoughts shift to spring rains, hope, gardening, housecleaning and decluttering? If you chose something from this list, then you are not alone. Those are the top ten words associated with spring according to Yahoo answers. When I was pulling my thoughts together for this column one word practically jumped off the page. Hope.

I have a daughter. Her name is Caroline, but I probably should have named her Hope. We refer to Caroline as “our miracle times three,” because before Caroline, came Sarah and Ashley. Both of these pregnancies went to term but ended tragically. Caroline made an early appearance eight weeks before her expected due-date. She weighed in at a mere three pounds, and measured only fifteen and one half inches. I brought her home from the hospital in a Cabbage Patch doll outfit because even the preemie outfits were too big. Despite her rough start, and a diagnosis of mild Cerebral Palsy, Caroline’s life progressed typically. She avoided doing homework almost daily, wrecked her first car, and broke curfew more than once. Today, she is a healthy, twenty-seven year old college graduate who is about to embark upon a greatest adventure of her life.

Over a year ago, Caroline was once again transitioning her life when she decided to travel down a path most people would never consider. She applied to the United States Peace Corps in January of 2013, was nominated in May of that same year, and received an invitation to serve in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho on January 31, 2014. She leaves Tampa on June 3rd, arriving in Africa on June 5th. Her commitment to the Peace Corps is twenty-seven months where she will fill the role of a healthy youth advisor. My handicapped daughter is leaving the comfort of her home by choice. She will most likely live without running water and quite possibly electricity, all to help and serve the people of a country struggling with HIV/Aids. The best part … she’s completely over-the-moon excited about this next chapter in her life. She has truly turned her page.

The Peace Corps is an international service organization that travels abroad to tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world. Volunteers work at a grassroots level towards making some sustainable change that will live on long after their service has ended. John F. Kennedy was president when the Peace Corps began in 1961, and the first group of 51 volunteers traveled to Ghana in August of that same year to serve as teachers. By December 1961, more than 500 volunteers were serving in nine host countries. To date, the Peace Corps has placed over 200,000 volunteers in over 139 countries with nearly 46% serving in Africa (data as of 11/20/13).

The preparation it takes to leave your life for over two years is staggering. The medical process alone is overwhelming. Caroline has been checked from head to toe, twice. She was just the lucky recipient of the three vaccinations needed to leave the country. She’s due for ten more shots once she arrives in Africa in June. The shopping seems to never end, with boxes from Amazon and other vendors arriving daily. A huge duffle bag, sleeping bag, Leatherman, and hammock arrived yesterday. Yes, I said hammock. I knew quitting the Girl Scouts was a huge mistake! Does she even know how to tie a decent knot?

She will need different clothing in order to dress appropriately for the culture of her designated country, and most definitely will need winter wear. Lesotho is in the southern hemisphere, so when she arrives in June – it’s wintertime! She’s voiced some concerns about that. After all, she’s lived twenty-four of her twenty-seven years in Florida.

And just for the record … every bit of this has been done entirely at her own expense.

Social media has been a life-saver. She’s already connected via Facebook with over sixteen members of the group traveling to Lesotho in June. Most are women, and three are over 50 years old. Caroline already refers to one as “the mom of the group.” She’s also connected with several men and women already serving in Lesotho. When Caroline asked if anyone needed anything, Travis requested one thing … the sixth season of Parks and Recreation. It’s the simple things in life that can lighten a dark day.

Longfellow’s beautiful words “The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain,” remind us that from the darkness of winter comes the beauty of spring. I’m reminding you to do stuff that really matters because around the corner, down the street, or even across an ocean stands a fellow human being in need. Your life … your acts of kindness … your purpose on this planet is your message to the world. Be sure that message is inspiring! Rebirth, regeneration, and renewal. It’s never too late to make a difference. Oh … and by the way … I’m the proudest mom on the planet!

Follow Caroline’s adventures at www.makingafootprint.wordpress.com


From February 2014…
Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable …

Last month my entire column focused on my 2013 resolutions, and I alluded to the promise that I intended to make fourteen new goals for 2014.  As the clock struck midnight on December 31, I had in fact recorded fourteen new promises to myself that includes drinking more water and weeding through the massive amount of clutter in my home.

Since February has everything to do with the heart, I decided to add a simple non-measurable goal to my list of fourteen resolutions. Number eight on my list this year is to Start Each Day With A Grateful Heart. Even though I absolutely love a great “love story” and anything to do with romance, I am not going to fill my article with words about love. Instead the theme of this column is kindness. Interestingly enough, something uniquely beautiful happened to me in early December that had such an impact – I just have to share.

As of December 13, 2013, I became the proud mother of TWO college graduates. My son had just wrapped up his final semester at the University of Central Florida, and walked in his black robe across the big stage at the 9:00am ceremony on Friday, December 13. I was the very proud mother sitting in the front row. Yeah … I snagged a front row seat. Due to scheduling and car issues, I attended this ceremony alone and traveled from my Tampa home to Orlando in a rental car. When all was said and done, my son accepted his well-earned diploma, I took a ton of pictures, and we had a wonderful celebratory lunch with friends afterward.

With the events of the day done, I began to make my journey back to Tampa in my adorable rental car – a very new VW bug. In order to bypass traffic, I elected to take a toll road as opposed to Interstate 4. I was aware the tolls would cost nearly fifteen dollars, but it would be money well spent in order to avoid the heavy Disney traffic along Interstate-4 Westbound. As I approached the first toll, I handed over enough cash to the toll booth operator saying “I’d like to pay for the car behind me.” I was in a great mood and had a permanent smile plastered on my face. I just felt like sharing.

For the next five tolls, I repeated my mantra for the day, enjoying sharing a simple gift of kindness to the unknown traveler behind me. When I approached the sixth toll, the operator placed out his hand to wave me on saying, “It’s your lucky day miss … that gentleman in the car ahead of you paid your toll.” Smiling broadly I waved to the elderly gentleman in the toll booth and moved quickly back into traffic. And that’s when my day changed and reminded me that no act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted (Aesop).

For the next three tolls, I was the recipient of a paid toll. The cost of my trip was paid at the seventh, eighth and ninth tolls. At tolls ten, eleven, and twelve, I once again added enough money to pay for the person behind me. I couldn’t help it! I was a proud mama, I was listening to a great playlist on my iPhone, and these simple acts of kindness were infectious. When I reached the last toll booth before the interstate, my plan was to complete my trip on Toll Road 417 Southbound with a bang. Prepared to offer the operator a ten dollar bill, I was met with a message that put the cherry on top of a truly fantastic weekend.

“What’s going on today?” The toll booth operator exclaimed. “Oh … it’s you!”

“Pardon me?” I replied somewhat perplexed.

“A gentleman came through about ten cars ago and handed me a twenty dollar bill. He told me to use the entire amount to pay the tolls of as many cars as it would cover.”

“Really?” I responded completely astonished.

“Yeah … and I’m pretty sure you started the whole thing! He said some lady in a grey VW bug had been paying his tolls for the last thirty-two miles. He said if I saw you, to let you know you made his day!”

“Awe … really?” With that I offered up my ten dollar bill and replied, “Well let’s see if we can keep that spirit alive all day! OK?” Bringing us out of our happy moment, the car behind us honked a reminder to move along. I simply waved and honked back.

What did I learn? We have the ability each and every day to lift the mood of everyone we come in contact with. And it doesn’t always have to be done with money. All someone has to do is use resources that they have at their disposal. It’s as easy as checking in on an elderly neighbor, offering to help a colleague with a heavy load to their car, or simply smiling at your unknown neighbors while traveling the aisles of the grocery store.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t’ have, recognize and make the best of the gifts you have been given. Grateful people are characterized by the appreciation of life’s simple pleasures, and happy people feel more gratitude in their lives. The bottom line … when you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through some monumental life event that has changed them.

The moral of this story my friends … if you can’t do great things; do small things in a great way. On December 13, 2013 at least three people, two drivers on Florida Toll Road 417 southbound and one very happy toll operator, had a day they will never forget. Aesop would be so proud.

Recommended Reading –

E Squared by Pam Trout and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra


From January 2014…
STOP MAKING RESOLUTIONS AND JUST START SOMETHING (OK … maybe still make a resolution or two)

Shortly before the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2012 I made a tactical error in judgment. I announced to my family, after drinking two martinis, that I was setting THIRTEEN New Year’s resolutions for 2013. The next day, my son had recorded all thirteen, and I woke to find them listed on a giant whiteboard next to my bed.  I had set myself up to fail in 2013 epically.

A few days later I was looking over the list, and I discovered that the majority of what I wrote was not so farfetched. Maybe … just maybe I could do this. I love to write. So I took my love of journaling and spent the entire month of January posting “A toast to friends, the family you choose” on Facebook.  That was number one on my list, and how it all began. On January 31, 2013 I had made 25 posts honoring my friends – the family I chose to be a part of my life. Not only had I honored these people, but I discovered a unique trait about myself. I had something worthwhile to say, and people were listening.

Of the thirteen resolutions, I completed two cycles of the 17 Day Diet (which I love!) and easily took off my typical holiday weight gain. I’m using my calendar more effectively, and am now timely with birthday cards and gifts to family and friends. I’ve worked out fairly regularly and have been to the gym EVERY WEEK this year. While I wasn’t 100% successful with everything on my list, I still approached each one with the same intention – forget all the reasons why it won’t work and believe the one reason it will.

There were complete flops as well. According to a good friend, boots ARE shoes. So when I found and purchased those perfect boots on sale in March for $16 I effectively failed at number ten. Number ten on my list was no clothes or shoe purchases for ninety days. I almost made it. I bought those boots on day 86! But … boots technically aren’t shoes. Are they?

Number thirteen was “the one.” You know, the GO BIG or go home completely impractical idea. That big idea that was doomed to certain failure the minute the words left my mouth. “I have an idea for a story, and I’m going to write a book.” The cumulative look on my family’s faces was priceless. And me, I was shaking in my $16 boots.

As an avid reader I am discouraged by only one thing in my romance novels. All the characters are between the ages of 19-27. I had to ask myself – no one, over the age of 40 has a great love story? I was sure this was the hook. With the encouragement of my husband, I participated in three webinars teaching the basics of how to write. Additionally, I read five books from how to write a romance novel to how to publish direct to Kindle. And I read, and I read, and I read. I read anything I could get my hands on. In May I put my first words on paper, and had my book club read the first chapter in June. Their unified response was we want more. And that was all it took. Six months and 91, 049 words later I have written my first novel.

So here I am – just trying to fulfill a dream. I’ve written 29, TWENTY-NINE CHAPTERS, of this Cozy Romantic Mystery with the working title “Tethered Through Time!” I am ahead of schedule and am currently into BIG TIME EDITING. I’ve changed the storyboard 26 times, but I am having a ball!! My book club of seven ladies and one gentleman are serving as my editing team and beta readers. They are the greatest friends in the world, and I’ve never felt more supported in my life. My husband has also read every word, and he calls my story compelling. Even better, I know in my heart of hearts, this book is going to sell. I just know it. I feel a new beginning coming toward me, and I am running out of the starting gate with open arms.

My message for this January is really very simple. If you’re tired of always starting over, stop giving up. Just like you, my life has had its ups and downs, full of daunting tragedy and beautiful blessings. But something changed last year when I decided to tackle those thirteen resolutions. I look better than I did twenty years ago – even with all the wrinkles, because I decided to be happy.  I woke up one day last year and decided I wasn’t going to let the odds keep me from doing what I know I was meant to do. I truly believe life is like your favorite book. Some chapters are tough to read and they test your resolve. Some are happy and lighthearted. Some might even be hot and sexy. But here’s the thing, if you never turn the page … you might just miss out on what happens next.

So, if you’re wondering, will I set fourteen resolutions for 2014? In a word – YES! What will yours be?

 

 

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