Act Before You Think

Grabbing the mic at karaoke, summoning the courage to say ‘hello’ to a new person, joining an impromptu game at a party: we’ve all taken small leaps based on impulse. Impulse prompts action, and action is the basis for change. Unfortunately, impulsivity has a bad reputation, associated with whims on the small scale and colossal mistakes in the big picture. But does that mean we should stop acting on our impulses?

Van Gogh warned, “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” We accomplish monumental tasks in a series because it’s hard to accomplish greatness in one swoop. But I’m gonna push back: impulsivity involves risk-taking, and risk-taking is central to greatness. If we stay too long in the Ponder Zone, we could miss our window for change.

Allowing our thoughts to impede worthy actions is a mistake. Listening to the pulse behind an impulse is the surest way to tap into the heart of what we need, and to take the kinds of leaps that will propel us into the future soundly. So if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to act before we think, these three steps are designed to get the most bang for our impulsive buck.

Lead with Heart.

My son smells like cookies. I don’t know how, in the midst of playing in the yard, he doesn’t smell exclusively like dirt, but when I kiss his cheek, it smells like sugar & vanilla. And that reminds me how powerful love can be. Messages of the heart are fierce. Latch onto the warmth that spreads across our entire bodies when we hold someone special, a true North in deciding how we know where to find our center. That’s not a fair weather feeling. Every time I hold someone I love, I find that feeling. And the next several breaths are the calmest, sweetest I take. So what’s all this business about the heart as a faulty guide? Just like we feel worry and disgust in the pits of our stomach, we find inspiration and truth in the palpitations of our hearts. Impulses that follow the passions & people we hold dear are the chords of the heart: a worthy direction to take. Embracing the moment to show someone we care, to extend a helping hand, to be brave about speaking up—-these are actions we can safely take without taking time to think.

Live in the dynamic.

Eleven years ago, my husband and I road tripped down to Key West. It had been a long day in the car, and by the time we reached 7 Mile Bridge, the storm that had been brewing was in full force, lightening strikes crashing down on either side of the narrow road, rain pelting the windshield. Nervously, we made it into town, only to be lost searching for our boutique hotel among the dark, one-way roads, wet with pounding rain. For navigation, we’d borrowed a friend’s Garmin, but now she was stuck on repeat: “Turn left. Turn left. Turn left.” Aimlessness is a terrible feeling. We need direction because, without it, the minutes slow down to seconds and at the same time, our hearts our pounding a hundred beats per minute. Impulse can be comforting because it carries with it a feeling of certainty: a direction. Impulse is the urge to act. And that’s better than wallowing in the unknown. When I act, there is a reaction. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s moving forward. Inertia is only valuable when the stored energy eventually finds a purpose. For what it’s worth, I choose the dynamic.

Listen to the Trees.

We may never know if falling trees in isolation make a sound, but we know to listen when they fall in our presence. In the same token, whether or not we follow our impulses, we owe them a listen. The paths we don’t take are just as important as the ones we do because if they make it into our realm of consideration, they must be speaking to an element of our spirit. Great thinkers and inventors cut paths where none exist, but they have to start somewhere, and I’d like to believe that beginning includes a series of impulses and moments of double back. On our weekend family hikes, we start with a single trail and then diverge. Sometimes, a decision to follow a fork takes us away from where we want to be; most times, it leads to new discoveries and a beautiful adventure in Nature. Listening to the impulse to turn or turn back is the journey.

A Call to Action

Action doesn’t have to be big. Action may be initiating a conversation, making an inquiry, or speaking up when we have an idea. In action, we are brave because action is easier to notice than thought, and action makes us vulnerable. But it is within the things we do, that we propel our lives forward, and bodies in motion are a beautiful thing.

Saying Yes to ‘And’

Salted caramel. Dry ice. Heavy metal orchestra. Complementary contrast is a normal part of life, marrying the best of two concepts into an experience better than each on its own.

In life, we find ourselves in contrast often: the times when one foot stands solidly in one space, and the other roots solidly in another. Moments that embody the feeling of ‘and’. Whether these moments become crossroads we take or amalgams we accept, the experience of living in two worlds simultaneously is universally human. As John Steinbeck once said, “There are as many worlds as there are kinds of days, and as an opal changes its colors and its fire to match the nature of a day, so do I.”

So why does it feel like there’s pressure to claim a single side and hold on tight?

Right now, the world is mired in divisiveness. Lines drawn cross politics, religion, geography, science, health, and education. In the public sphere, social media has become a proving ground for idea campaigns and reputation shredding. It’s a tough place to live in the gray. And so I’d like to pose an alternative, to suggest we don’t have to choose as many sides as the mediasphere would have us think. There is a space for both individual freedom and collective progress: that space is “the culture of and”.

Embrace the Culture of ‘And

I’m not a fan of clearly defined parameters. I enjoy trekking my own way because in that journey, I find the strategies that fit my values. It’s also why I’m a terrible cook—recipes are full of specific steps that must be followed in precision for the dish to succeed. Ask my husband about the time I made asparagus hollandaise and he’ll turn the same shade of green. But that penchant for unfettered navigation is what keeps me coming back to this idea of “and”. Human beings are sophisticated animals. We juggle family, friend, and career roles. We schedule our lives around a series of goals that span personal, relational, and professional. We vary the food we eat, the media we consume, and the clothes we wear. We trek out into the wilderness for Nature’s beauty and track our steps, path, and heart rate with the latest technology. We already know how to live with the best of two worlds. What we need to feel peace in the social world is to embrace the idea that our beliefs can be slices of many pies.

Clarity Charity

To live outside the talking points of one side or the other, we can be clear about what it is we think and feel. We can examine each decision that affects our family, friends, colleagues, and communities with an understanding of what we want and what is possible. In most situations, there’s a way to get part of what we desire, and most of what we need, even if it means redefining our expectations. But compromise only works if we understand the goals and needs of everyone involved, so we have to stop making others guess. It’s human nature to make assumptions about others based on past behaviors, which is why the people in our lives will make assumptions until we tell them. Clarity is kindness.

The Power of Change

Ironically, the more progressive our world becomes, the more we latch onto the words, actions, and mindsets of the past. As a woman in my 40’s, I’m grateful for the experiences that have changed me the last few decades. I don’t see the world the way I did when I was 18, or 28, or 38. Those shifts I’ve made in how I see myself and the world indicate progress, not hypocrisy. It’s natural to change our minds. We experience transformative moments, and the way we live needs to move with us. Changing our views doesn’t equal changing our identities. And believing in shades of an idea that encompass more than one ‘side’ is okay. We can accept new realities without having to lose the core of who we are. The world has never been black and white: it has always been a myriad of gray.

And what?

Embracing ‘and’ doesn’t mean we give up choosing a path to follow. It means that we define our lives into values and decisions that reflect the complicated human beings we are. We can love those who believe differently than we do, and we can change our viewpoint without losing our center. Next time we find ourselves in the center of two spaces, let’s look for the ‘and’. With ‘and’ we can open more doors than we close.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Life is comprised of the small stuff. The small joys and small trials and small moments. The small stuff is actually pretty big. And though I know the adage focuses on not miring ourselves in the minutiae, in these crazy times, I’d like to turn it on its head, and say, the small stuff is exactly what‘s worth sweating. As Ben Franklin reminds us, “Little strokes fell great oaks.” So, here are three small things worth caring about.

Small Crises.

A long time ago, we were fed a mistruth. Not quite a lie, but a misrepresentation. The notion that only catastrophic forces warrant sadness and malaise and loss. That no matter how great the small trials, if we have a home and people to love, well, then who are we to feel down?

The truth is, uncertainty is far more dangerous to our wellbeing than crisis. We’re built for crisis. Fight or flight. We come together in crisis. What we’re not built for is a life without anticipation. A life without certainty. We can’t calibrate without a firm sense of what is and what isn’t. The past year has tested this notion more than any in recent history. To live each day in a state of uncertainty, without the ability to plan and assurances to count on, the days can become aimless.

So take time to honor the bumps & bruises. We don’t have to wallow, but the little hurts still sting, and that doesn’t make us any less strong to take a moment and acknowledge that a bad day is a bad day.

Small Connections.

These are the tiny reminders that we connect. That people are more than passing branches in a stream. Isolation and frustration are universal. Conversations and faces are essential. How many times before the 2020 pandemic did we take for granted being able to gather together? The pleasantries that used to seem inconsequential are now, in absence, a greater loss than we could have imagined. We’re more alike than we are different because we’re more human than we are anything else.

Hugs. High Fives. Physical gestures are now measured and weighed and often foregone. So let’s cherish the ones we can still enjoy: the impromptu hugs of our children, the touch of a loved one, the gestures of solidarity. And when we return to a world that no longer forbids physical affection, let us reach across aisles, tables, doorways, and rooms to pull the people we care about into our arms.

Small Comforts

Hot coffee first thing in the morning. Snacks in the cupboard. Comfortable chairs and soft leggings. Life is a series of minutes, not hours. As we converted our homes into classrooms and office spaces, as we converted our lives into small squares of safety nets, we looked around. We grabbed the lamps and rugs and cushions. We pulled the board games out of the cupboard and laced up our sneakers for a walk through the forest. We called a friend and just talked. We sat on decks in the sun and read a book. We took a breath.

Our lives do not have to stop progressing. We do not have to cease exploring. There is happiness to be found, goals to be attained, and love to be appreciated. But only if we really dial down & take note of the small stuff.

Smells Like Team Spirit

My first Chicago Bears game was perfect. Snow fell in big, fat flakes. The air was cold enough to see each breath across our lips. With scarves wrapped around our necks and Hot Hands stuffed into our boots, Craig and I nestled high in the stands of Soldier Field, peering across thousands of fans braving the January afternoon. Something fortuitous was in the air.

When we experience a connection with an entity larger than ourselves, it feels magical. That connection to place, culture, or idea is hard to replicate in isolation, which is why collaboration is so special. Yes, we can achieve personal goals when we set priorities and forge bravely ahead, but we never accomplish as much alone as we do inside a powerful team. The structure of those teams may vary greatly: families, neighborhoods, colleagues, or sports teams, but what doesn’t seem to vary are the ingredients for team magic. For every great team I’ve been lucky to join, these ingredients were key.

Ingredient 1: Compliment the Complements

In the words of author Tom Rath, “Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.” A great team includes people who have strengths that we don’t have. It includes voices that present the world in a way that varies from our personal lens. We benefit by nurturing the people who challenge our impressions and ask for insight in the quiet spaces. If not, we end up spending too much time debating the same ideas in the same ways. This groupthink phenomenon is less about how similar we are as people and more about how similar we allow our group contribution to become. So, when we’re looking for a way to boost our team, let’s compliment the way we complement each other.

Ingredient 2: Discover What’s Under the Surface

“The world is satisfied with words. Few care to dive beneath the surface.” French philosopher Blaise Pascal is challenging us to dig. And where better to dig than to discover what our teammates have to offer? Spending time focusing on the talents and life experiences of teammates establishes respect for each person’s contribution. That means getting social and taking a real interest in each other’s hobbies & thought bubbles. Bring the coffee lover a special blend. Send the chef an interesting recipe. Share a song that matches the musician’s vibe. Noticing the particulars of our teammates says “I see you” and makes the work we do together more enjoyable and more productive.

Ingredient 3: Call it on the Carpet.

“That which a team does not want to discuss, it most needs to discuss.” (Paul Gibbons) Sometimes we need a good shove. Nudges that push us away from the edge of indecision and toward a plan. We’ve all found in ourselves in the “what do we do” social dilemma, back and forth chats about where to eat or which movie to see inevitably leaving everyone in the group frustrated because no one wants to make a decision. What would happen if we were more direct? Can stating our opinions actually be a sign of love and respect for the group? I think so.

Ingredient 4: Be a Force of Love.

“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving nature of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.” (Albert Schweitzer) It’s easy to be negative. It’s easy to find fault with moments, mistakes, and those who make them. But whenever I remember the times when those on my teams (family, friends, co-workers) have been gracious and understanding with my own moments & mistakes, I’m reassured that it can be done. Being a “force of love” doesn’t mean we lower our standards or stop caring about the little things. Being a “force of love” does not equate to being a doormat. It just means that we feel empathy for the struggles of others and we recognize that living our best selves is a daily challenge. We forgive & see beyond the immediate. We stretch and take a breath.

Team Spirit

We may not be able to enjoy our teams, even our home teams, the way we always have right now. But the spirit is there. And the spirit is the most important ingredient. Together, we’ve got it all.

Lord of the Human Decoder Rings

My husband and I are big foodies: dining has become an adventure. We love sampling new dishes, visiting cool eateries- anything to stretch our palettes. Generally, I’m pretty game for new food territory, but every once in awhile I find a dish that doesn’t hit the spot– hello, bone marrow– and I’m tempted to rate the dish based on a single bite. But if did, I’d be missing what’s around the corner, allowing a single experience to define my perspective.

Miss Misinterpretation

When we interpret the world, we rely on what we can see and feel, gauging what to do next. When it comes to food, books, and entertainment, it isn’t hard to make judgments or even to change our minds. People are another story. We often get caught up in singular impressions, shutting down empathy and amping up misunderstanding. Why is it so hard not to get stuck on single encounters when it comes to social situations? Being misinterpreted by others may be commonplace, but that doesn’t make it any less upsetting. How many times have we realized mid-argument that a conflict is based on misunderstanding? As social beings, we’re weaving through our days on Behavior Analysis permits, zooming from one confounding encounter to the next, riding alongside two of the most irresponsible Driver’s Ed instructors EVER: the fundamental attribution error, and the availability heuristic.

Our Sneaky Brains

As a psychological principle, the attribution error is a human tendency to understand how our own behavior is influenced by emotions, stress, and life events but attribute others’ behavior strictly to personality. Example: a stranger stalks down the sidewalk swearing & scowling = she must be a weird, angry person. Flip the switch to when we growl through the supermarket like the Incredible Hulk: clearly, we’re just having a bad day. Clear as mud because everyone else will be attributing our behavior to a natural Hulk-like state.

Truth: there’s danger in assessing other people’s actions. For all that our friends and family members show us, it’s typically only the tip of the cranial iceberg. Consider how many thoughts and emotions run through our minds in a given day. Gazillions. Now reflect on what percentage we share with the world. Twenty? We can’t share everything–would be akin to asking our friends to ride on a dizzying loop of It’s a Small World, Tower of Terror, Back to the Future, and The Lazy River. But knowing what we don’t know is still a win. Maybe we don’t have to read what others are thinking. Maybe knowing that we’re only seeing 20% is enough to start asking better questions and making fewer assumptions. Easier said than done, but powerful nonetheless.

Recently, I watched three friends gently confront one another about what wasn’t being said and what was being read (facial expressions) as a way to communicate honestly while working on a project. It was an opportunity to discover the truth and honor one another in the process. Their friendship survived and the work product evolved. Win/win. I admire what they accomplished because confrontation, even gentle, is my least favorite communication, but the alternative- BIG FAT AVOIDANCE- has never done me a single favor.

Availability Heuristic

That pesky second influence, availability heuristic, prompts our brains to weigh the likelihood of an event based on how quickly examples come to mind. The more stories we hear about kittens struck by lightning, the more likely we are to never let our furry friends outside in the rain. Doesn’t sound so bad until we connect it to human behavior. Example: after hearing three stories about friends’ breakups that started with the words, “we have to talk”, we’re convinced that any conversation with those words will lead to impending doom. Our friend texts, “we need to talk” and suddenly we’re dodging calls, taking alternate routes around the office, and hiding in our homes. Meanwhile, our previously un-angry friend is now feeling neglected, leading to actual anger and rifts in the relationship. Suddenly, the absence of a conversation that may not have been terrible at all has led to very real consequences. JFK’s words about fearing nothing but “fear itself” ring especially true here. Most people in our lives care enough about us—or at least about propriety–to have civil conversations about sticky subjects. Whatever we’re afraid of is likely worse than the actuality.

Message Clarity

Unfortunately, knowing these pitfalls doesn’t stop others from misinterpreting what we say and do. But perhaps there are ways to send better messages into the world, and as a result, be less misunderstood. I like to try these three.

1.) Facial Recognition Software: Our expressions communicate more than we realize. Taking stock of what our face may be saying is a good check-in. 

2.) Pre-emptive Strike: When it’s been one of those days, warning those around us that we’re in a sensitive place goes far to prevent our growliness from being interpreted as something they did wrong.

3.) Text Subtext: As much as we “text talk”, if we don’t shine a light on the subtext (in some cases, a floodlight) we’re liable to be in a mess of confusion quickly, and often without even realizing we’ve been unclear.

We owe it to ourselves, and those around us, to believe in good intentions. To look past the surface & acknowledge that what we see may not be the full picture. Going forward, let’s choose to honor the missing pieces, Let’s use our decoder rings to understand and be heard. Let’s take a second bite.

The Romance of Trance

Music is aggressively emotional. Songs have the power to transport our minds and bodies to a memory, a mood, a mindset…all within seconds. And unlike so many other experiences in our life, listening to music is a willing partner to almost anything we do. Work, play, grief, elation. Music can ride alongside, building a soundtrack to parallel the journey of our day.

It begs the question, if the soundtrack of our lives runs the gamut from ballad to bass, what makes a particular song good? For me, it’s how the song influences my emotions, how well it inspires daydream. Which is why I like trance. Imagine a beat that resembles the rhythm of your heart. Now add the sweetly haunting melody of a woman’s voice, superimposed against a sharp drumbeat. Slowly, the tune rises, gaining momentum, synthesizing a multitude of sounds into a calling. Dance. Smile. Move. Take it all in.

Many psychologists claim that anticipation is the most enjoyable emotion. Social psychologists Liz Dunn and Mike Norton take that one step further, categorizing anticipation as a vehicle for “free happiness”. And I believe. It is exciting to imagine, to dream, to get lost in the “what if”s of our visions. Now let’s get back to music. Trance is punctuated with rising beats, with melodies that evolve slowly, with a crescendo of notes that eventually explode into a beautiful, cacophonous, sensory overload. If there was ever a musical genre that embodies anticipation, it is trance. But that’s not all.

The magic of anticipation is the journey to a dream. Trance is particularly good at transportation to cerebral wonderland because it mirrors one of the dreams every person strives for– true human connection. Walk with me there. In a truly good relationship, we each bring something different to the table. And those differences are exciting because we are drawn to layers, to depth. Who wants to live a ‘one note’ life? The juxtaposition of steady & dynamic, of dark and ethereal, of explicit and obscure builds layers in our world. Trance weaves the beauty of a woman’s voice—soft, lilting–with the comfortable intensity of a steady beat. 

Ready to be transported? One of my favorite artists and an OG in the trance world, Paul Oakenfold, is a master driver. (1) In “Southern Sun”, we find the cadence of a heartbeat, alongside the voice of a siren. (2) Tiesto reinvents Adagio for Strings with an infectious beat and distorted rhythm. (3) Deadmau5 offers a loud, clear beat against a beautiful melody in  “I Remember” . (4) Armin van Buuren layers a haunting voice into a danceable beat with “In and Out of Love”. (5) William Orbit sends us on a journey through time, marrying synthesizers, piano and meditation in “Water from a Vine Leaf” 

In our best relationships, we find both comfort and excitement. We complement one another. We each bring a different dish to the table. After all, what’s a picnic of simply ambrosia salad? One note. 





The Power of One

Don’t give me a gun. Give me a hand.

I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last fifteen years in the classroom, inspired by the fire & audacity of students. Teenagers, in particular, are complex, emotional, and passionate about justice. They fearlessly pursue what seems impossible. As adults, we often shake our heads at their headstrong nature, at their inability to believe that time & circumstance will not be on their side.

What if we’ve got it all wrong?

As adulthood settles in, and responsibilities rise, we change: less likely to take great risks, less likely to boldly push against resistance, less likely to rebel. Today, as we grieve in the wake of Marjory Stoneman Douglas and count the decades since Columbine, we can no longer afford to intellectually dissect these horrors as adults. We must tackle them with the tenacity of our children.

One domino can topple an entire row.

It’s easy to feel cowed by the forces that seem beyond reach: corporations, agencies, and governmental bodies. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the rigidity of culture, ignorance, hatred. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the loud and the righteous. But the smallest motions still carry great power. We are interlinked, living in chains of dominos.

Consider our nation’s history. The power of a single person changing its course: that’s our story. Ruby Bridges. Rosa Parks. Ryan White. One person’s story launching a movement. One narrative to unite one voice. Yet, each day we wait for our world to transform.

Let’s not wait any longer.

The true power in the power of one isn’t about admiration for the one who stands: it is about standing as a single body, ready to force change. But forcing change doesn’t mean using force. Real change is a tug of war won inches at a time. It is gripping the rope and not getting discouraged as we feel our bodies lunge a bit forward. Setting our feet & pulling as one. Together, we have power. Together, our voice is louder than the timbre of money, status, and tradition.

Let’s grab the rope.

We need our children. We need to show them how to use this power. How to garner support via social media campaigns, how to articulate their thoughts to lawmakers, how to shame the profit makers, how to transfer their audacious spirit to a voice that will be heard. And we must stand up with them. We must not be cowed by those who do not understand, who do not agree, who try to discredit our concerns.

The most dangerous voices are not the ones who scream in favor of radicalism. They are the ones who lounge in apathy.

How will we be heard?

In the arms who pull lost children out of the darkness. In the hands who join in solidarity against the myth that change is futile. In the steady voices who reach our leaders, reminding Americans that in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, life will always be first.

Wearing the Silver Lining

The night is darkest just before the dawn. The hardest part is believing in the promise of the coming light.

When the days are cast in shadow, when crawling into the abyss seems as safe as curling under the covers, it can be difficult to imagine light on the horizon. But the light is always there. And in those moments–when hurt & frustration threaten to drag us under–we owe it to ourselves to seek the light.

Luckily, finding the light is not chasing windmills: we can find more than ourselves in the process. We just may need a few pitstops along the way.

Stop One: Temporarily embrace the darkness.

Sometimes there’s no way out of the funk except through the “dark and twisty”. Pretending only deepens the hurt. We have to wrap our arms around the holes in the pits of our stomachs. Shout. Dance. Pommel a punching bag. Pour every thought into a letter, a journal, an empty room. When I can’t find my own words, music calls to me. There’s nothing quite like the wisdom of Metallica’s “No Leaf Clover” shouting about how “the soothing light at the end of your tunnel…is a freight train coming your way”. Singing with all my might alongside one of my favorite metal bands bleeds away the tension, leaving room for peace. Once that angst is spent, even just a little, we can breathe, and welcome clear thoughts, not simply those clouded by the thickness of emotion. Whenever I try to sidestep my emotions- instead of walking through them- any progress I make toward feeling better is small. Unresolved emotional baggage is a boomerang poised to slap us in the face when we least expect it. The path forward is always through.

Stop Two: Channel your inner warrior. 

Inspiration is a powerful fuel, but so is friction. Invincibility is all about perception. Remember what it felt like to believe that we could do anything if only X, Y, & Z would get out of the way? That spirit of rebellion is just as effective in the wake of adversity. For every challenge, for every time someone tells us we can’t, we have to fight for authenticity. Find the nearest phone booth & unwrap the superhero suit we’ve been hiding beneath our daily duds. Summon the courage to smile, to trust in our strengths, to find common ground, to not just think outside the box but throw out the box altogether. We are strongest when we trust in our capacities.

Stop Three: Wear the silver lining. 

Optimists get a bad rap. In a world of sharp retorts, witty barbs, and rampant sarcasm, hope & light are often lost in the Great Dreary. But the silver threads of every cloud’s lining are magical. Those silver threads are stronger than any bright white silk, than any dark twine. Those silver threads are a reminder that through the rain, we can still see the glimmer of the sun. We will surely face darkness again. Some days it may feel like we’re living in perpetual darkness, but the notion that the dark is forever is a scary misconception. A single light can illuminate a large path, and that’s all we need to believe. Wrapping ourselves in the glimmer of possibility keeps us moving forward. Wear the silver lining with pride. Optimism is not naive. Happiness is not a fool’s paradise. We create the life we want to live. So, for 2018, I wish for all of us, a closet full of silver threads.

Five Old School Trends Still Stylin’

In a world where we communicate more via text, post, Snapchat, or Twitter than we speak aloud, I’m curious how this is changing the conversation. Wordsmithing our lives into shareable bites is fun and quick and clever, but does it deliver? Close your eyes and relive the most transformative conversations of your life. Our memories are cloaked in sensory sustenance. Spontaneous half-smiles, the timbre of laughter, familiar scents…these goodies are hard to recreate in a digital landscape. This has me thinking about the relics of the Old School Kingdom we should fight to hold onto. When I move to Tech Island, what do I bring from the Pre-Smartphonian Era? 


Vinyl is rising from the ashes because music is rich and textured and gorgeous on a record player. It’s personal. Suddenly, the band is sitting with me, performing like gladiators because their talent is boundless, and they don’t need a team of sound engineers to smooth out their edges. Rawness is a concert: the moment that separates all true artists from makers of music. If you can rock in person, you can truly rock. And though I know it’s an allusion to believe there’s not a team of production geniuses somewhere behind the scenes, this less polished sound is real & vibrant & worth the resurgence.



There are so many new,-fashioned, visually-appealing ways to capture our experiences: glossy, digital photo books, musically-cued video collages, Pinterest boards, to-the-minute-social media pages…but nothing replaces the sensation of touch. Running fingers across the lace of a dress from decades ago, curling up inside a quilt passed down from generations of yore, breathing in the scent of perfume on a sheet of old stationary…if there’s a sense we lose in the digital world…it’s touch. I may be able to listen to my child’s voice and wander through galleries of photos on my phone, but when I flip through my childhood scrapbook, I can touch concert tickets, corsage ribbon, and puffy, scratch ‘n sniff sticker collections. The sniff may be long gone, but the feel of those stickers sends me backwards in time. Touch makes our world real: so, trundle boxes, cedar chests, and fabric-covered scrapbooks will always trump what lingers in the cloud.

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It’s still fun to get mail. Real mail that travels through the hands of loved ones to postal workers to our doorsteps. Our name scrawled in familiar handwriting, written on a card that bears smudges and creases and, often, a signature scent. Everything my grandma ever mailed to me smelled like lavender. I don’t know how, but when I opened a box or a letter, I was suddenly next to her, minimizing the hundreds of miles between us into negligible space. Now that she’s gone, I can find her again in her letters, her cards. Just like a message in a bottle, I know that once a card is written and sealed, I am giving it away: it belongs forever to the one who reads it. In a world where we are able to reread and rethink conversation, handwritten cards are singular moments of expression, casting into the ocean of our relationships. 

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Window Shopping

I love Amazon just as much as anyone—heck, they’re selling my book (warning: shameless plug alert in three, two, one…—but there’s nothing quite like walking into a locally-owned store, chorus of bells jangling at the door, strolling aisles of vintage clothes, quirky knickknacks, and homemade candles. Imagine Christmas shopping without the sounds of carols streaming through store speakers, the sparkle of twinkling white lights adorning every window, or the smell of peppermint, chocolate, and roasted cinnamon wafting through the air. Something is missing. While online shopping remains exciting and convenient, sometimes in order to get a feel for an item, we actually need to feel the item. 

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Real books with spines & creamy, beige-tinted pages. Real books with glossy covers & pages that smoothly shear the air as they’re turned. Real books that tumble from hand to hand, reader to reader. Unlike the devices we hold dear, getting our hands on real books doesn’t cost a dime, yet we can carry them like we own them. There is such beauty in the stillness of a library, of vibrantly-colored spines adorning the shelves of every local bookshop. Sanctuaries of dreams, purveyors of imagination. As much as I appreciate the convenience of reading online, my heart will always belong to the printed text.

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The future is exciting. I’ve never been one to shy away from change or adventure, so I’m certainly not suggesting we turn away from the connectivity new technology offers. On the contrary, let’s marry our worlds: embracing the adventures Innovation has to offer without losing sight of Classic and Quality. If it’s epic, it will probably be epic tomorrow. For each time our family expands, we don’t stop loving those who first stamped our hearts…our hearts simply grow. Here’s to a world of giant hearts.

Five Reasons To Bring The Montessori Spirit Into Every Classroom

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Freshly sharpened pencils. Scissors swishing through construction paper. Waxy crayons. These are the sensations of imagination. Promise. Eagerness. Remember simmering with excitement for fossil searches, water tables, and fairy tales? Remember bursting at the seams for Curious George, scavenger hunts, and ancient Egypt? These were the moments we fell in love with academia, and now, as my oldest child prepares to enter kindergarten, I feel so grateful for the wonder in her eyes, the spark of untapped potential, due in large part to the Montessori preschool she has attended these last two years. Here are five elements of Montessori in which every classroom would flourish. 

Learning is Personal

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw reminds us that the search for enlightenment is not about discovering what makes us tick, it’s about becoming who we want to be. In the classroom, the essence of personalized learning is crafting the path of the individual student in such a way that her needs and interests meet her just where she is. Designing a classroom that presents this kind of diversity can be challenging, but Montessori does it so well by providing a wide variety of materials in accessible spots throughout the classroom, inviting students to explore. In my daughter’s classroom, she approaches each day by choosing which “works” she’d like to pursue, selecting familiar materials, or requesting a lesson about new tasks that pique her interest. The classroom is her oyster, offering pearls of intellectual adventure that are presented by her teachers based on students’ interests, aptitudes, and challenges. Whether she’s painting a map of South America, identifying verbs in a story she’s read, or classifying the parts of a bird, the student is the architect of her learning.

Language as a Tool

“We teach children to begin with their own words before they learn to read the words of others.” At parent night, I ruminated on this comment from Amy Valela, my daughter’s teacher at Peaceful Child Montessori Academy. She explained that instead of beginning with the alphabet as a way to read, students first learn the letters they will write. Tracing the outline of a letter in sandpaper, training her fingers to form the shape of the letters that will tell her stories, my daughter envisions words as her own, as a way to communicate the ideas burning through her, ready to pour onto the page. Reading comes later. First, she writes, and learns to bend the shape of the letters into a personal narrative. The words are not just her own…she owns the words. Language is not something to learn, but something to use.

Curiosity is King

I don’t hear the word “curriculum” in the Montessori classroom. The focus is not so centralized. Instead, it is a living, dynamic environment that builds low shelves & open containers into beautiful, child-centered stations accessible to the curious mind. Students approach the materials they want to use, selecting and directing their education based entirely on their interests. It’s the re-envisioning of Oliver Twist…every child asking, “Please, sir, can I have some more?”, yet hearing only ‘yes’. As our home collection of giant, painted maps of the world’s continents continues to grow, I smile. Right now, geography & geometry are favorites; tomorrow, who knows? But regardless, she is able to follow her curiosity wherever it takes her- something we can all bring to our students.

The World’s Classroom

Candles, warm hearth. The table is set with fine linens, adorned with personal place cards, as we are served the first course: a charcuterie board spread atop a wooden platter sanded and oiled by my daughter. This is the French Culinary experience, a four-week evening class in the art of French cooking. Learning to cook is only one part of this class; the real lessons are about patience, measuring, and pride in what takes time. My daughter finds this same attention to culture and fine art in her monthly classes at The Petite Palette, an art studio. A show at the Sandwich Opera House. Visits to Willowcrest Nursing Home. My little girl and her comrades may only be three to five years old, but they enjoy the finer elements of the world just as adults have liberty to do. The world is their learning space.

Children are People Too

“Be careful.” “You’re too little.” “Wait until you’re older.” We share these concerns with our little ones all the time. It’s only natural to worry about their safety, to not want them to grow up too fast. But Montessori has taught me that my daughter craves the chance to demonstrate her maturing skills. Pouring a drink from a large, glass water jug. Carrying ceramic plates. Cutting up an apple for a mid-day snack. These tasks are a source of great pride for my daughter, an opportunity to contribute to the practical elements of life she watches her parents master every day. These are the signs of independence and the ones we should foster in every student. 

As a parent, I may never be fully ready for that first day of kindergarten, but thanks to the lessons of her imaginative, innovative preschool experience, I know my daughter is. As a teacher, I may never be able to fully transform my classroom into a Montessori-like oasis, but I know my students are eager for an active, personal, curiosity-inspired learning space. Sometimes it feels like the barriers are greater than our resources, but I have seen incredible strength, resolve, and creativity in the teachers I know. We have the power to make the world our students’ oyster.

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