The Art of Gratitude in the Blogging Community

If there were one word to best describe the blogging community, it would have to be “SUPPORTIVE.” In the short time I’ve been blogging, I’ve been bowled over time and time again by the extreme kindness, generosity, and unwavering support of fellow bloggers.

And now I’ve been knocked over once again–this time with awards from several writers whom I enjoy and respect immensely. Each brings brightness and creativity to the web, and makes blogging not only uplifting, but infinitely fascinating.

Kreativ Blogger awardDeborah Batterman at The Things She Thinks About has nominated me for the Kreativ Blogger Award. Deborah is not only a talented blogger, but the author of a wonderful collection of short stories, entitled, Shoes, Hair, Nails. She is perhaps the most generous author/blogger/social media whiz I’ve met–continually creating exceptional content for her own site and also sharing relevant, entertaining and just plain cool stuff with us via Facebook, Twitter and SheWrites. I have no idea where she finds the time to do all this, but it’s definitely worth seeing what Deborah is up to. Click on the links above or follow her on Twitter: @DEBatterman.

Candle lighter awardMelissa at Play 101 has nominated me for the Candle Lighter Award.

“The Candle Lighter Award is an award for a post or blog that is positive and brings light into the world.

The Candle Lighter Award belongs to those who believe, who always survive the day and who never stop dreaming, who do not quit but keep trying.”

It is a tremendous honor to receive this from Melissa because she exemplifies this award. Melissa is an extraordinary writer (former journalist, news anchor, all around smarty pants—in the best sense). She writes about life and children, and always leaves you wanting more. Not only is her blog filled with thoughtful content, but the comments she leaves on other blogs makes you yearn to write (and think) as eloquently as she does.

Hug Award GraphicArindam at Being Arindam has nominated me for the HUG Award (Hope Unites Globally). Arindam is a blogger who lives in India and shares his universal views on love and life through his words and pictures. His posts are always heart-felt, adding a glimmer of insight and hope about the broader world. I’m honored to receive this award from him.

The HUG Award© is for people with an expectant desire for the world, for which they: Hope for Love; Hope for Freedom; Hope for Peace; Hope for Equality; Hope for Unity; Hope for Joy and Happiness; Hope for Compassion and Mercy; Hope for Faith; Hope for Wholeness and Wellness; Hope for Prosperity; Hope for Ecological Preservation; Hope for Oneness.

“People do not have to give up or compromise their own religious, spiritual, or political beliefs to qualify for the Hope Unites Globally HUG Award©. They qualify for the HUG Award© when, without bias or prejudice, they use their resources and gifts to make the world a better place for everyone.” (see this link for all the information regarding this award: HUG).

The Kreativ Blogger Award asks that I share seven things about myself with you that you don’t already know. This link tells about as much as anybody could ever possibly want to know about me: A Bazillion Things That Make Me Happy and Grateful (click on it if you’re interested).

The best part of receiving these awards is nominating others and paying it forward–sending a virtual hug and a high-five to fellow bloggers. Please check out their blogs and see why I’m thrilled to be nominating each of them.

I AM NOMINATING THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE FOR CANDLE LIGHTER AWARD:

Tracey Baptiste at Knitting with Pencils

Kay Bess at Sometimes Life…doesn’t turn out like you planned.

Brenda Moquez at Passionate Pursuits

Jessica Winters Mireles at Allegro non Tanto

I AM NOMINATING THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE FOR THE KREATIV BLOGGER AWARD:

Amber Dusick at Crappy Pictures

Harper Faulkner at All Write

Cindy Brown at Everyday Underwear

I AM NOMINATING THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE FOR THE HUG AWARD:

Sifting the Grain

Nancy MacMillan at Blog of a Vet’s Wife

Tina Barbour at Bringing Along OCD

The Luck of the Irish

Photo of shamrocksOn St. Patrick’s Day it’s often said that everybody is Irish. I’m no exception—even if I am only half Irish.

With my fair skin and freckles, and a maiden name honoring the color of shamrocks and leprechaun duds, you can bet I’ll be celebrating all things Irish this St. Patrick’s Day.

Mostly I’ll be celebrating the luck of the Irish, which I’ve often felt I’ve been blessed with much of my life.

Don’t get me wrong or think I’m bragging when I say this because, believe me, I’ve had my share of heart-shattering moments just like everybody else–where I’ve practically had to duct tape my aorta and ventricles back together to keep functioning. Still I’ve always felt ridiculously lucky (all you have to do is read my posts about why I ended up in Aspen (part one and part two), or my post about how I met my husband to understand why).

Here’s another perfect example: several years ago I decided that I was finally going to write a novel that had been kicking around in my head for years. It was time to stop thinking about it, and just do it, as the famous Nike advertisement once espoused.

So I began.

Scene after scene poured out of me and onto my computer. The characters consumed me, the words swirled through me; I even began hearing the soundtrack for my book playing in my head as I wrote it. It was magic.

But then I re-read the pile of chapters I had quickly amassed and realized I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.

After writing into the wee hours one night, on a whim, I decided to go online and take a look at an adult education course catalog for our local community college. The school listed several writing classes, but only one fit my schedule: it was called “Write from the Start,” taught by an instructor named Cork Millner. The catalog merely listed the course title, but no description. I wasn’t sure if this would help me with my novel, but I liked the sound of it, and thought the instructor’s name was charming and quirky (or at least impossible for him to be mean).

This is the lucky part: the class started the very next morning. It was like a sign sent from the Lucky Irish Heavens. Clearly, it was meant to be, so without another thought I jumped off my safe, cozy “do it later” cliff and pushed the SIGN UP button.

____________

The next morning as I got ready for class, I was buzzing with the challenge of a new adventure, but also feeling like an awkward sixth grader on her first day of school. The reality of what I had signed up for suddenly hit me. Nerves made my coffee taste like dirt and my hands turn to ice. I hadn’t been in college in years…okay, make that two decades. I’d been busy running our photo agency.

Between the butterflies in my stomach and the rain dumping outside my window, I could barely force myself out the door. To top it off, when I arrived at school the parking lot was full, offering an easy excuse to bail on the whole absurd idea and go have coffee instead.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I tried to bolster myself as I circled the surrounding blocks multiple times looking for parking.

“The best things in life have always happened when you’ve taken a risk,” I continued until I finally found a spot. “Just do it,” I mentally blasted myself as I pushed the door open and stepped out into the pouring rain.

By the time I finally made it to class I was not only late, but drenched and worn out from the effort. The instructor looked at me with raised eyebrows, and a half smirk-smile as I slinked to the back of the room trying to find an empty seat.

Then he wrote his name, Cork Millner, on the chalkboard, followed by the word CREATIVE NONFICTION.

WHAT? Nonfiction? Crap. My Irish luck suddenly felt like anything but.

I guess this wasn’t meant to be after all, I moaned to myself. I want to learn how to write a novel, not magazine articles or memoirs.

I thought about creeping back out the door right then, but sat paralyzed in indecision and pride. I’d already made a pathetic entrance into the class. I couldn’t bring myself to make a humiliating exit too.

So I stayed. And I listened. And I looked around. In no time I realized that the witty and seasoned instructor standing at the front of the class, who also happened to be a former Navy fighter pilot and the author of numerous books and hundreds of magazine articles, could teach me a thing or two about the art of writing, no matter what type it was.

Thus began one of the luckiest leaps of faith I’ve ever taken. Not only did Cork Millner teach me the most important things I’ve learned about structure, imagery, and the business of being a writer, he also taught me dozens of things I didn’t even know I wanted, or needed to know: particularly that creative nonfiction is my passion.

Blogging, sharing Jeffrey’s photography adventures from around the world and creating an ecclectic mix of health, fitness, food and feature profiles has filled my creative cereal bowl with a pile of sweet, colorful Lucky Charms.

It was lucky that I discovered Cork’s class. It was lucky that I did not bail on it when it was easier to go have coffee, and it was lucky that I stayed open to possibility.

Because of that, an extraordinary mentor was dropped into my life–one who offered me the perfect amount of encouragement, criticism, and wisdom, all at the right time.

Not only that, but Cork’s class also offered a place to meet and learn from dozens of other writers far more talented than me–all kindred spirits who cannot not write, and who feel compelled to share their ideas with the world. Many of these people are doing extraordinary things in addition to writing—like helping people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, working to eliminate plastic bags in Africa, helping families grappling with cancer,  or showing people with dyslexia that it’s possible to become a professional writer.

Photo of author, Cork Millner

Cork and his class will always remind me that luck rarely comes without taking risks, and even more important, the harder I work, the luckier I become.

So here’s to celebrating the luck of the Irish, and a man named Cork for whom I will always be grateful for making a staggering difference in my life (and no, that’s not because I’ve been nipping on Irish whiskey).

Thank you Cork, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day everybody!

Drop me a comment! I’d love to know who or what in your life has made you feel lucky!

If Life (and eBook Publishing) is Mount Everest, Then Attitude is Everything

Last month Nancy Mixon, an awesome mom at our daughter’s elementary school, organized a Family Night in which a woman named Petit Pinson was invited to speak to our children about her experiences climbing Mt. Everest.

Photo of Petit Pinson at Mt. EverestPetit Pinson couldn’t be a more fitting name for this wiry, fiery, spunky outdoorsy woman. She epitomizes the notion of what it means to chase after life, and lights up a room like the 4th of July.

Petit showered the kids with stories and images from her trip, and even let them try on her climbing gear—suit, boots and all.

But it wasn’t Petit’s Everest climb that impressed me most, or that fact that she had been on an extreme adventure reality TV show, or that she and her team had given up their opportunity to summit Everest, just one camp away from the top, because they were busy saving the lives of a Japanese climbing team that had gotten into trouble and run out of oxygen.

What impressed me most was what she taught our kids about attitude.

Her approach was so simple, yet so profound, it has popped into my head numerous times over the past month.

What did she say? She simply used a Sharpie marker and wrote two words on the palms of her hands, holding them up for the audience to read.

One hand said GET and the other hand said YET.

Photo of hands with the words GET and YET

To paraphrase this portion of her talk (in the extreme), she suggested that instead of grumbling about all the things you “have to” do in life (homework, chores, exercise, etc.), think about how lucky you are that you GET to do these things. You may dread taking out the trash or doing the final edit on your manuscript, but if you think about it, you’re darn lucky to live in a place that has trash service, and you’re uber fortunate to have a manuscript that’s in its final phases.

By changing your wording, you change your mindset so you no longer feel like you’re being forced to do something you don’t want to do. Instead, you feel like you’re being given an opportunity, which makes you feel lucky.

Her other point touches on perspective. When you’re feeling frustrated that you’re not good at something, remind yourself about the word YET. You may not be good at writing query letters or playing tennis YET, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be later—after you’ve practiced hard trying to master it.

Few people are great at things they try for the first time, whether it’s writing, painting, taking pictures, climbing, learning a language, or conquering a new computer program. We all stumble, and even fall multiple times before we become proficient.

It’s all about attitude and perseverance, and remembering the word YET.

The reason Petit Pinson has popped into my head numerous times over the past few weeks is because Jeffrey and I have been working hard trying to master the art of ebook publishing.

Nothing about it has been easy, especially since our book is filled with photographs and captions, and ebook publishing is still in its infancy. Navigating through all the inconsistencies in information and formatting feels a bit like climbing Mt. Everest.

Steve and i book coverMany times I’ve wanted to head back to Base Camp and call it a day with a cold Negra Modelo, but then I’ve thought of Petit Pinson, and reminded myself that I’m the one who chose this path. I’m the one who wanted to figure it out on our own instead of handing it over to a third party publisher.

Because I chose this more difficult route, I GET to learn how it’s all done, and I GET to publish a book exactly how I want it—in all its various formats—for the Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook, and iPad. I also GET to learn several cool new computer and design programs and master things my non-technical soul usually sucks at (for lack of a better term).

Right now, it’s a slow grind up the mountain, but I keep reminding myself about the word YET. We’re not there YET, but we will be. It’s not perfect YET, but it’s close. We will get from Camp IV to the summit because Jeffrey and I are nothing but determined. Best of all, once we finally master this new challenge we’ll GET to add these new tools of knowledge to our creative backpacks for our next publishing adventures.

So here’s a shout out to you, Petit Pinson, for not only inspiring our kids to reach to new heights, but for reminding me that attitude is everything in life (and ebook publishing).

Photo of the North Face of Mount Everest in Tibet

The North Face of Mt. Everest in Tibet, taken at Base Camp in 2000, when I was fortunate enough to venture to the Roof of the World with my dear friend, Janet Cook. This image is my perfect reminder about attitude. ©Becky Green Aaronson.

This is Your Life…

You may have seen this before, but it’s worth taking a peek at the Holstee Manifesto again. It’s one of my favorite tidbits floating around the web so I thought I’d share it with you.

Holstee Manifesto Poster

This video version below is especially fun if you like typography.

Happy Sunday everybody. Now get out there and create something!

The Other Man: An Unlikely Valentine’s Love Story

Heart GraphicLove. Passion. Amore. It’s impossible to define it in its infinite forms, even though its power shapes nearly everything about us.

On this Valentine’s Day I feel compelled to tell you about a man who continually sets my heart on fire and leaves me weak in the knees with his passion.

This man, by the way, is in serious competition with my husband.

Okay, I confess: I’ve been fooling around.

I can picture the disgusted looks on your faces as you read this news. But try not to think too badly of me, even if this affair has been going on for nearly fifteen years.

It might make you happy to know that this “other man” whom I adore so much, has never once brought me roses or chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Nor has he toasted with me champagne, pampered me with peeled grapes or showered me with sweet nothings. In fact, he has never even uttered a word to me.

The name of this quiet man? Fred.

If you’re concerned about my darling husband, don’t worry, he’s okay with Fred. He even supports my flings with him.

You see, Fred is a driving force in the battle against cancer.

His full name is Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, and also the founder of Fred’s Team, an organization supporting runners who dream of a world without cancer.

In early 1990, after a long illustrious running career, Fred Lebow was diagnosed with brain cancer. He was determined to use his passion for running as a means to battle this insidious disease, and designated Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as the New York City Marathon’s first official charity.

Fred's Team LogoHis program, simply named Fred’s Team, encouraged runners to gather pledges for each mile they ran and donate it to MSKCC.

Since 1995 Fred’s Team has raised more than $45 million for pioneering research.

How did I fall head-over-heels for Fred?

Simple. Cancer drove a truck through my heart when I was eighteen years old. My dad, who was just 51 at the time, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died six months later–just a few weeks into my freshman year of college.

A decade later, that same semi-truck looped back around and plowed into my heart once again. This time it was my mom who was stricken by the disease. Her breast cancer left me dazed, my heart barely pumping. All I could do was watch helplessly (long-distance, no less) as she suffered through painful surgery and treatments.

It’s then I dragged my running shoes out of the closet and fell in love with Fred–or more accurately Fred’s Team, and what it represented.

I’d always loved running, but my shoes hadn’t logged more than five miles in a good long while. Somehow lacing them up again and putting one foot in front of the other helped me sort through my anger, grief and frustration. It also helped remind me of my inner strength—even if setting a goal like the New York City Marathon was so absurd I couldn’t bring myself to utter the words to a soul, except for my husband.

When I joined Fred’s Team though, I realized that it was impossible to raise money for cancer research if you didn’t tell people what you’re doing. Eventually I built up my courage and began sending out letters. Unnerving is the best way to describe it–especially since asking people for money is one of my least favorite things to do.

When I confided in a good friend that I felt like I was bragging when I told people I was running a marathon, she gave me sage advice: “Just remember this is not about you. It’s much bigger than you, so get over it!”

And I did.

Donations immediately began pouring in—along with words of encouragement and stories of how cancer had affected many of my supporters. People blew me away with their generosity.  It seems everybody knew somebody who had been knocked down by this disease.

With each mile I logged and each dollar I collected, my heart slowly began to heal. No longer did I feel powerless against the disease I loathed so much. By raising funds to support researchers working hard to find a cure, I felt like I could finally face cancer and say, “GAME ON, SUCKER!”

That was fourteen years ago, and I have not looked back since.

Since then I’ve run eight marathons (NYC-three times, Paris, Rome, Portland, Santa Barbara-twice), two triathlons, and also participated in a 400-mile cycling event through the Colorado Rockies. With the help of many extraordinary supporters I’ve raised over $60,000 for cancer research.

Photo of Becky Green Aaronson at the finish of the 1998 NYC MarathonBecky Green Aaronson running the 1999 New York City Marathon

Running the Santa Barbara Marathon, fundraising for cancer researchBecky Green Aaronson after the 2002 Paris MarathonBecky Green Aaronson cycling during Ride the RockiesBecky Green Aaronson during the Carpinteria TriathlonBecky Green Aaronson at the finish of the Santa Barbara TriathlonPhoto of Becky Green Aaronson running the Portland MarathonBecky Green Aaronson running the Santa Barbara MarathonPhoto of Becky Green Aaronson running the 2003 Rome Marathon

And now Fred and I are getting ready for our next tryst . This time we’ll be participating in a 50-mile cycling event in Solvang, California on March 10th.

Why do I keep doing this? Unfortunately that careening truck keeps smashing into my heart.

My mom survived her initial bought with breast cancer, but later died of colon cancer. My Auntie Katie also died of cancer in 2010. Auntie Margie died of cancer in 2011 as well as Aunt Bertha. Cousins, uncles, friends, colleagues, neighbors–nobody is immune. Every day it’s somebody new. Steve Jobs, Baby Lexi (read my friend Jessica’s story here to learn more), my friend Molly, my other friend A, my friend, Angie’s dad. It goes on and on. But I refuse to give in to this beast, and I hope you will join Fred and me in trying to kick its ass.

If you’d like to know more about Fred’s Team or if you’d like to support my upcoming half-century cycling event, click on this link: Becky’s Ride for Fred’s Team

Love is what drives us as human beings. And love is what drives me to continue doing what I do.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Fred. Thanks for being my “other man” for some many years. Your passion and commitment still move me.

Fred's Team Lobo

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Belief in Motion

Photo of horses running in a snowstorm

This Thursday’s Picture of the Week has little to do with exotic locations or unusual circumstances. Rather, it has everything to do with what it represents: belief.

Behind the Scenes: Aspen 1981—Snow is falling in fat, heavy flakes. Jeffrey knows it’s a perfect morning to create a photograph he’s been envisioning since he took a photo workshop from renowned photographer, Ernst Haas, several months earlier.

Haas is considered one of the most important figures in 20th century photography and is lauded as a leader in the art of color imagery.

Jeffrey has only owned a camera for a few years and is awash in enthusiasm for the art form, and the unlimited possibilities it offers.

Portrait of Ernst HaasThe workshop Haas leads at Anderson Ranch Arts Center focuses on motion, a technique he pioneered when he photographed bullfighting and the Indianapolis 500 in the 1950′s. Instead of shooting a fast shutter speed and freezing the subjects, as was typical of the time, he shot them with a slow shutter speed to capture the beauty of the motion.

• • •

Photo of race cars by Ernst HaasPhoto of bullfighting by Ernst Haas

“To express dynamic motion through a static moment became for me limited and unsatisfactory. The basic idea was to liberate myself from this old concept and arrive at an image in which the spectator could feel the beauty of a fourth dimension, which lies much more between moments than within a moment. In music one remembers never one tone, but a melody, a theme, a movement. In dance, never a moment, but again the beauty of a movement in time and space.”

–Ernst Haas

The approach Haas teaches at his workshop resonates with Jeffrey, and he knows he wants to capture the beauty and fluidity of horses running in the snow.

• • •

On the morning of the snowstorm, while most people are loading up their skis or hunkering down with a hot cup of coffee and a good book in front of the fireplace, Jeffrey puts on his heavy Sorrel boots, gets in his car and drives up Red Mountain.

After navigating the steep, windy road overlooking town, he parks his car next to a small meadow where horses are being boarded for the winter. The wind is blowing, flakes are sailing, and the horses begin running as soon as Jeffrey gets out of his car.

Jeffrey raises his camera and captures poetry in motion.

• • •

What happens next is where belief comes into play…

A few years later, Jeffrey is asked to be a part of a group exhibition at Unicorn Gallery, an Aspen gallery owned by entrepreneur Randy Woods. Jeffrey is humbled to be in the company of abstract painter, Richard Carter (former assistant to renowned artist Herbert Bayer of the Bauhaus School), and print maker, Tom Benton, creator of the famous Hunter Thompson campaign posters of the 70s.

Portrait of print maker Thomas BentonTom Benton Hunter Thompson PosterTom Benton Fat City PrintPortrait of artist, Dick CarterRichard Dick Carter Art

On the night of the opening, the gallery is abuzz with art enthusiasts, including internationally reputed photographer Ferenc (Franz) Berko.

Portrait of Franz BerkoBerko, a tall, slender, ascot-wearing European transplant, greets Jeffrey with a gentle smile and quiet hello.

Franz and his wife, Mirte, had come to Aspen in 1949 at the invitation of Walter Paepcke to photograph the Goethe Bicentennial. It was during the age of Aspen’s transformation from purely a silver mining town to a world-class ski resort and artist colony.

The Berkos were enamored with the mountains and town and ended up staying permanently. Below are a few images Franz shot over the years, when he not only turned his camera on the Goethe Bicentennial, but the Aspen Institute, the Aspen Music Festival and numerous other subjects.

Rubinstein in Aspen, Colorado by Franz BerkoPhoto of Albert Schweitzer in Aspen, Colorado by Ferenc BerkoPhoto of Bayer Wall in Aspen, Colorado by Ferenc BerkoPhoto of ski touring Pearl Pass in Aspen, Colorado by Franz BerkoPhoto of kids walking up stairs by Franz BerkoPhoto of Ballet by Franz Berko

©Berko Photos: Top (L) Arthur Rubinstein, (R) Albert Schweitzer, Middle (L) Work on the Herbert Bayer wall, (R) Ski touring up Pearl Pass. Bottom (L) Children, (R) Overview of ballerina

• • •

Later during the opening Berko approaches Jeffrey once again. This time he simply says, “I would like to buy a print of your horses running for my daughter.”

Jeffrey is stunned.

He smiles and stammers for a minute, then replies, “Franz, I would like to give you a print.”

Franz will have nothing to do with it.

“No, I insist I pay you for it. Your art is worth much more than you are asking. Please make me a print and bring it to Mirte’s toy store next week.”

“There’s only one thing,” he continues, “you must sign it.”

At that moment, Jeffrey knows for certain he is headed in the right direction following his passion for photography.

• • •

Franz and Jeffrey soon become dear friends, and Franz stays deeply interested in Jeffrey’s career, often giving him quiet advice throughout the years, until his death in 2000.

This photograph of the horses running will always remain a special image to Jeffrey because it represents so many things to him: his love of photography, his inner drive and enthusiasm when he was just beginning his career, and most of all, somebody’s belief in him and his ability to see.

“When you’re just starting out and one of the most respected photographers in the art world appreciates your work enough to buy a print, there’s no greater approval,” Jeffrey says.

• • •

Berko Studio on Aspen's Main Street In a “small world” twist, the Berko Gallery, which is run by Franz’s granddaughter, Mirte Mallory, is now housed in a charming purple Victorian on Aspen’s Main Street—a home that Jeffrey and I owned and lived in for many years in the mid-1990’s.Yep, see that brick walkway? Jeffrey and I laid it with our own hands. “Our” purple Victorian will always hold sweet memories for us, and now it’s even more special because it holds the photographs of somebody who not only made a powerful impact on Jeffrey’s career, but also his life.

Now it’s your turn. Who has been the “Franz” of your life? Who has believed in you and given you the confidence to reach your potential? I’d love to hear all about this wonderful person!

In the Name of Love: A Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wasn’t born when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech during that tumultuous summer of 1963 when a quarter million people marched on Washington, but King’s inspiring words have floated around in my head much of my adult life.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr._______________

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

_______________

King’s ideas, and more so, his actions, have stood as a powerful reminder that even the most insurmountable challenges can be conquered when one person’s dreams are fueled by passion and commitment.

• • •

For the past several days I’ve spent numerous hours trying to write a meaningful tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr., agonizing over each word, nuance, and angle. But nothing I created felt worthy of Dr. King and all the extraordinary things he did.

I wanted so badly to get this tribute right that I continually got it wrong. My words weren’t powerful enough nor my ideas brilliant enough, or my approach passionate enough to adequately honor somebody who changed so much for our country.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr. in jailMy daughter, Olivia, watched as I sat at my computer, struggling with my thoughts. She watched as I listened to King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on YouTube, feeling the emotion I was trying to put into words. She watched as I played U2’s music video, “Pride (In the Name of Love)”—one of my all-time favorite songs. Then she watched as I closed the lid on my laptop and gave up.

I tried to ignore the crummy feeling that immediately washed over me, but I couldn’t. I had let myself down (particularly since I was trying to honor somebody whose character was the epitome of strength, determination and persistence), and I had also set a horrible example for my daughter. Nothing about it felt okay.

What came next though changed everything.

Olivia came back into my office a few minutes later, put her arms around my neck, then said, “I think we should do something special.”

I was so deep in my self-flagellating thoughts that I merely placated her with, “Hmmmm,” not even thinking about what she was trying to say.

Olivia, who is nothing but persistent, tried once again to get my full attention and shake me out of my glum mood, repeating subtly, “I THINK WE SHOULD DO SOMETHING SPECIAL.”

Finally, I snapped backed in a semi-annoyed voice–not wanting to play the guessing game, “Do something special for what?”

“You know, Mom…uh…Martin Luther King.” (duh!).

That’s all she had to say to make everything right. I couldn’t put into words how important this man was to me, or to our nation, but my 8-year old instinctively knew, and wanted to honor him.

Photo of a candle flameAt dinner we symbolically lit candles and talked about Dr. King and all he did. We talked about the difficulties he faced and how he changed our nation by pursuing his dream of equality with passion and commitment.

Photo of Rosa parksThen Olivia said, “Tell me about Rosa Parks.” When my husband explained that she was arrested because she wouldn’t give up her seat for a white person and go to the back of the bus, Olivia said, “Are you kidding me? That makes no sense.”

The fact that she could not comprehend this way of thinking said everything.

It reminded me of when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Olivia was just five years old, but Jeffrey and I kept her home from preschool that day so she could watch Obama’s historic inauguration with us on TV.

Photo Barack Obama inaugurationWhen Olivia saw tears trickling down my cheeks, she cocked her head and said, “Mommy, why are you crying? Aren’t you happy that Bawack Obama is pwesident?”

I had to explain to her that I couldn’t have been happier or more proud of our country. We were finally living up to our creed that all men are created equal.

Jeffrey simply said, “I want you to always remember this moment, Olivia.”

Just like the conversation that surrounded Obama’s inauguration, our entire dinner conversation last night focused on judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin, just like Martin Luther King dreamed so many years ago.

Martin Luther King jr Day graphicThe topper to my whole “perfect moment” evening though, was when Olivia asked, “Why don’t people work on Martin Luther King Day?” When I told her that many people choose to honor him by doing community service or giving back, she immediately said, “I want to feed the homeless again. Pleeeeaase? Can we pleeeeeeease? I really want to do that.”

So there you go, Dr. King, we will be honoring you once again by giving back to our community, and continuing to celebrate your dream–a dream that becomes more and more powerful with each new generation, simply because equality for all is a given in the eyes of young people who have not yet learned to be ignorant.

Photo of Martin Luther King Jr.

And I Think To Myself….

__________

Indeed, what a wonderful world. Louis Armstrong, with his caramelized soulful voice, and his priceless smile, reminds us of this simple notion like nobody else.

I should probably put a warning label on this post because “Satchmo-type optimism” tends to overtake me every January. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s most likely because not only do I get to cartwheel with you into a fresh new calendar year, but I also get to put another candle on top my birthday cake (hopefully a decadent chocolate espresso mousse cake).

Yep, it’s my birthday week, and as you might have guessed, I’m a sucker for birthdays. After all, the alternative…well.…

I can think of no better way to celebrate than to dance in a rain of music.

Why music?

Because music makes me happy. Simple as that.

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It also makes me feel young, raucous and alive. No matter how many candles adorn my cake, the minute I blast The Beatles, U2 or Bruce Springsteen I’m twenty years old again (click on the links and hit the video play buttons if you’d like to feel that way too)!

Music moves me like no other artform.

It inspires, motivates me, and often leaves me in awe. It also makes me feel like I can be a better person. It reminds me that anything is possible, especially if I ignore all limitations I might place on myself.

If Aretha Franklin, who is anything but an opera singer, can bring me to tears with her jaw-dropping version of Nessun Dorma, then anything is possible.

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If Mick Jagger can still prance around the stage and rip it up with the boys when he’s now a senior citizen, why should anything stop the rest of us? It may not be pretty, but it’s still damn fun, and after all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Music is about setting ourselves free—it’s our anthem to create and to Imagine, just like John Lennon espoused so many years ago. And it’s often our call to action–to free ourselves from what we cannot tolerate–from war and racism to hatred, poverty and inequality.

Music is about possibility. It is about celebrating who we are, and where we’ve been. It’s storytelling in its most magnificent form, without restraint. Bob Dylan, whose lyrics defined a generation, is arguably one of the best storytellers of all time.

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Music also creates a time capsule of our lives, instantly taking us back to a time and place, or capturing a moment in which we are living right now.

I can recall every chapter of my life with music, and I bet you can too.

As a child, our house was filled with music–everything from Mom’s John Denver and Tom Jones to Dad’s George Benson and Herbie Hancock to my brother’s Beatles, Aerosmith, Led Zeplin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Credence Clearwater Revival. And let’s not forget my tween years which reverberated with Peter Frampton, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, Boston, the Beach Boys and god forbid, Shaun Cassidy.

Every wonderful and awkward moment got stuffed into that musical time capsule of mine.

High school was about Michael Jackson, AC/DC, the Go-Go’s and a plethora of 80’s crap created during the MTV revolution. And college? Any time I hear The Stones, U2, Talking Heads, Violent Femmes or Bob Marley, I’m immediately transported back to my dorm, remembering all the fun had with friends on more than one raucous occasion.

Just about every memorable moment of my life has been accompanied by music–from the first dance at our wedding to our dive into parenthood to road trips, concerts (of course), holidays, graduations, family memorials and numerous athletic adventures. It takes little more than a guitar riff or drum beat to bring it all right back.

But this is what I love most about music: music brings us together like nothing else. Because it crosses all boundaries, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich, poor, young, old, gay, straight, black, white or purple. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or where you’re going, music is about being in the present and sharing in a moment.

As I sign off from this post, I can think of nothing more this birthday girl would like to do than to thank all the talented musicians of the world for giving me (and all of you) one of the greatest gifts of all.

And also share one more for the road…Take it away, Sir Paul and friends

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PS: Thanks for indulging me. I’ll be back talking about photography in my next post. In the meantime, I’d love to know how music has impacted your life. What does your personal music time capsule sound like? Is it filled with Motown? Gospel? Opera? Beethoven? Or good old rock-n-roll?

A Deliciously Selfish Goal for the New Year

Happy New Year GraphicI love the start of a new year.

It screams possibilities. It oozes with adventure. It sizzles with freshness as we renew priorities and set a course for the year.

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I am one to make goals. What’s the difference? Most likely just semantics. But to me goals feel weightier and more lasting than resolutions.

Goals allow me to focus on what’s important in my life. Without them I tend to wander through days and even weeks without paying much attention to what I’m doing.

Perhaps because I lost my dad at an early age, I learned quickly that life is short. With that niggling notion always kicking around in my mind, often pushing my motivation buttons, I have a hard time forgiving myself if I bump along in a stupor.

This year’s goals keep me focused on giving back, trying new things, and completing projects–all the while maintaining balance between family, fitness and fun. I won’t bore you with the details of how I plan to reach these goals, or even what they mean, but I will share with you one of my all-time favorite New Year’s goals.

It’s one I accomplished two or three years ago, and one that might surprise you in its simplicity. It involved little more than time and thought.

Star GraphicI created a list of the most important people in my life, then I sat down and wrote a letter to each person, telling him or her why he or she meant so much to me.

My brothers were at the top of my list, as were several dear friends and other family members, including my husband and daughter.

With a family that’s often in perpetual motion, the hardest part was carving out quiet time to think. Once I did though, I picked out pretty stationery, settled down with a colossal cup of coffee, and spilled my heart onto the pages.

Each letter took several hours as I thought about how the recipient had impacted my life. My heart sang as I wrote my words, recalling each person’s unique characteristics and how he or she made me feel. I often laughed out loud or welled up with tears remembering funny or warm memories and all the sweetness that person had added to my life.

While my goal was intended to be “other focused,” it ended up being one of the most deliciously selfish goals I ever made because it gratified me in ways I never imagined.

The mere act of consciously focusing on each person made me appreciate how obscenely lucky I was to have that individual in my life; and it allowed me to gush and celebrate what is beautiful and unique about each one—something I’ve never been good at doing in person.

It took me an entire year to write letters to each of the 15 people on my list, but it made me happy in the extreme.

To this day it still makes me smile, especially when I imagine each person going to the mailbox, opening the letter, then instantly being wrapped in a warm, deserving blanket of appreciation. And thinking back to the teary return phone calls and heartfelt emails, telling me how much my letter meant to them, is like an exquisite gift that sits on a permanent shelf in my memory.

Here’s the kicker. I’m glad I didn’t wait.

Two of the special people I wrote letters to have since passed away. While I miss them both, it eases the pain of their loss knowing that no words were left unsaid; they knew without a doubt when they left this world, they had made a difference in somebody’s life.

After all, what better goal is there in life than that?

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