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.

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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!

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.’”

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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….

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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?

Mom

Photo of my mom when she was at the beach

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then clearly I don’t need to say a thing.

But I will.

In honor of my mom, on what would have been her 77th birthday, I’m breaking every blogging rule out there and going “off topic.” Forgive me for this indulgence, but here’s to the beautiful person who brought me into this world and helped make me who I am today. Her spirit, love of life and knee-slapping laughter will always be carried deep in the crevices of my heart.

Photo of my mom when she was a young girl

See more pictures by clicking here

Wow NOW Versatile Cow

NOW: THE VERSATILE BLOGGER AWARD

OCTOBER 2011: I’ve been blogging for a little over a month now, and I must say, it has been a month to remember. I had no idea what to expect when I started this adventure so I guess I can’t say it has surpassed my expectations since I didn’t have any.

But I can say this: I’m completely bowled over by all the support and enthusiasm I have received from you. Your comments, emails and phone calls have reminded me why writing is so rewarding.

Here’s another reason why this first month has been so much fun:

The Versatile Blogger AwardThe Versatile Blogger Award was recently bestowed upon me by two bloggers whose work I admire very much: Michele Bunn (MediaMichelle) who writes Crossing the Line (Learning to fly over the mainstream), and Harper Faulkner who writes All Write (It’s All About Writing). Both are wordsmiths who leave me thinking, laughing, and celebrating life’s quirky and poignant moments. You won’t be disappointed when you check out their blogs. Thanks to both of them for nominating me.

As part of this award I’m asked to share 7 things most people don’t know about me, so here it goes:

1) Whenever I’m terrified to start something new, I know it’s the right thing to do.

2) I’m much more likely to cry when somebody does something nice for me than when I’m sad.

3) I won the 2nd grade spelling bee. How’s that for random trivia?

4) Red Vines have a wicked hold on me…licorice, that is!

5) I’m in total awe of teachers. Growing up, I always thought I’d be one (at least when I wasn’t dreaming of being an artist), but now I know I’d make a HORRIBLE teacher.

6) I write in a journal every day, and have done so for years. One of the most meaningful things I do is jot down my Perfect Moment from each day. Oh geez, I know that sounds way too Oprah’ish, but it’s true. It’s usually just a quick one-liner I scribble on the side of each day’s entry–like today will probably be, “The smell of eucalyptus trees after the rain,” or “Made it through my spinning class without too much pain.” The reason I do this is to remind myself to be grateful for what each day brings. I could be having a perfectly crappy day in every way, but no matter what, there’s always a perfect moment. Could be as simple as, “When the golf ball shattered our car windshield on the way home from picking up Olivia from camp, thankfully nobody got shards of glass in their eyes.”

7) I am fiercely proud of and grateful for my three older brothers. Each is as different as can be and each makes me a better person.

Photo of my three brothers

My three brothers: L to R Scott, Tim, Mark

My oldest brother, Mark, is a solid, spiritual, hard-working, electric guitar-playing, flyfishing, teddy bear who wells up at the drop of a hat. He walked me down the aisle (actually it was a trail) on my wedding day, and that’s something that will forever be etched in my memory. My middle brother, Tim, is the perfect mix of a Harley-riding, art-car driving, eccentric artist who’s stubborn, yet creative, fun-loving and fiercely protective of his peeps. I will never forget when I was a young kid playing street hockey with all the neighborhood boys and one of the kids started calling me names. Tim was right there ready to kick his ass. Scott is the youngest of the three and a bit of a wild card. He’s ridiculously smart, highly-caffeinated, athletic, and funny as hell. This guy can weave a tale, I tell you. Get him started on politics and be prepared to stay for the duration. My most recent reason to be proud of him is that after being in the newspaper industry for more than twenty years, he has chosen to go back to school to earn degrees for a second career. He’s in class with kids younger than his own son and he’s giving them all a serious run for their money–while still working full-time, I might add. Whoooyaaa for my three adorable brothers. Did I mention that I’m one proud and lucky sister?

Okay, so now you know a bundle of random stuff about me. Here’s the other rule of the award. I’m supposed to nominate 15 other bloggers for this award. Here’s a start, in no particular order. I’m so new to this blogging thing that I still have much to discover! If there’s a blog you know I should check out, please be sure to send me the link!

Allegro non tanto

The Things She Thinks About

Africa Inside

Blog of a Vet’s Wife

Latin Journeys

While the Dervish Dances

Play 101

Kidzmet

And Away We Go The Dsylexic Writer

Frugal Healthy Simple

Traveling Through

Nominees, now it’s your turn to do the same!

Worlds Away THEN… Paying it Forward NOW

THEN:  WORLDS AWAY (Part Two)

Portrait of Cherie Hiser and Tim Green

Tim and Cherie, 1985 ©Phillip Steven Cox, Silver Gelatin Print

September 1988: It’s the end of a hot, lazy summer day in Portland, and my insanely talented and artistic brother, Tim Green, and his ridiculously creative and eccentric wife (at the time), Cherie Hiser, have invited me over for dinner.

In no time the sweltering heat and the fine meal of artichokes, salmon, and sauteed mushrooms turn me into melted butter.

It is then, out of the blue, my sister-in-law says, “You know, I think you should go to Aspen and work for David Hiser.

Cherie, ever-optimistic, and generous to a fault, often came up with ideas that were more likely to be found in made-for-TV-movies.

Her Aspen idea is no exception.

Portrait of photographer David Hiser

David Hiser in the Arctic, 2006

As I raise my eyebrows and shoot her a smirk of disbelief, she says, “No, I’m serious. You’ve worked your ass off paying your way through school. You should celebrate. And it would be a great experience for you to work as an intern for a National Geographic photographer and see what Aspen’s all about.”

Prior to marrying my brother Tim, a gold and platinumsmith jewelry designer and tattoo artist twenty years Cherie’s junior, Cherie had been married to David Hiser. The two had lived in Aspen in the 60’s, and both became photographers, starting the renowned Center of the Eye.

Self-portrait of Cherie Hiser in Aspen, 1968

Birthday self-portrait of Cherie Hiser as Little Orphan Annie in Aspen, 1968 © Cherie Hiser

Portrait of Cherie Hiser and Ansel Adams

Cherie and Ansel Adams ©Cherie Hiser

While David and Cherie weren’t able to hold their relationship together in marriage, they still remained friends, and stayed in touch often.

Portait of David and Cherie Hiser

David and Cherie Hiser in 1968 and 1993

“I’m going to call him,” she says to me as if there is no question about it.

A couple weeks later, as I’m getting ready for work at my bookstore job, making coffee in the tired kitchen of my college rental house, the phone rings. I can feel sparks of excitement coursing through the phone. Cherie laughs, then says in her silky voice, “Looks like you better start packing your bags. David says he’s interested in having you work for him.”

Grand Staircase Escalante

Star trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone National Park, Quetzal dancer in Mexico, Penan boy hunting with his blowpipe in Borneo, Rock Islands in Palau, Micronesia, Olympic National Park in Washington. All photos ©David Hiser

Oh my god, she was serious, I laugh to myself. I’d completely put it out of my mind, assuming it was just another one of her shoot-for-the-moon ideas. Cherie, who had one of the largest circle of friends and followers of anybody I knew, had a way of convincing people to do things they might not otherwise do.

I had no idea what she said to David to talk him into it, but as she rambled off the details of my Aspen adventure, it barely sank in: “In exchange for sweeping David’s floor and working in his studio, he’ll give you free housing for a month. You just need to get yourself there and have a little pocket money.

Grand Prismatic in Yellowstone National ParkQuetzal Dancer, MexicoPenan Hunter Gather of BorneoPalau, MicronesiaOlympic National Park, Washington

I don’t even know David, having only met him briefly once in Portland at a slide presentation he was giving at one of Cherie’s events. I also don’t know a soul in Aspen, nor do I know a thing about the town, except that it’s a ski resort high in the Colorado Rockies; it is completely off my radar.

I am itching for adventure though, so after scraping together enough money for a plane ticket, I give notice at work, convince my mom I won’t be axe-murdered, then pack my bags a month later and take off on my improbable journey to Aspen.

Maroon Bells in Aspen, Colorado with fall colors

One of the first things that makes my heart pound when I arrive in Aspen: The Maroon Bells with fall colors. ©Jeffrey Aaronson

NOW:  PAYING IT FORWARD

September 2011: When I think back to the sheer generosity afforded to me by David and Cherie Hiser, along with David’s girlfriend at the time, Barbara Bussell, when I was 22 years old, and the impact their kindness made on my life, I am nearly paralyzed with gratitude.

Without them, I never would have ventured to Aspen, I never would have fallen into the world of photography, and I never would have been swept away by the green-eyed,   curly-headed guy I now call my husband. And without those things, undoubtedly my life would have been much less rich.

Though I’ve thanked the Hisers and Barbara over and over in my mind for the past two decades, I realize the verbal thank yous I gave them years ago do not remotely equate to the gratitude I hold deep inside.

Portrait of Cherie Hiser and David Hiser

Cherie Hiser and David Hiser © 2010 Hiser and Hiser

But how do you adequately thank someone for making such a profound difference in your life? Words seem ridiculously inadequate.

I often tell my daughter that actions speak louder than words, and in the same vein, JFK once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

I can think of no better way to show my appreciation to David, Cherie and Barbara, besides sending them another resounding thank you (THANK YOU!) than to “PAY IT FORWARD,” to make a difference in another person’s life like they did in mine.

While this may sound lofty or highfalutin, and frankly, much easier said than done, for me it has become a lifelong goal–something I try to plug away at every day. Whether it’s teaching my daughter the value of giving back and helping others, volunteering in our community, or getting involved in causes that are meaningful to me, opportunities pop up every day. Just like many of you, I try to do what I can, when I can, and hope in the end, what I do will eventually make a difference to somebody.

Fortunately, I’m surrounded by people who inspire me on a daily basis: from my friend Maggie Bahnson, who raises money for cancer research…to my friend Annie Trout, who teaches kids in Haiti via Skype…to my friend Sarah Chase Shaw, who is involved in numerous leadership roles in her community…to my friend Jamie Allison, who founded Moms in Motion, a fitness group for women…to my husband, Jeffrey, who donates his work to help fund projects like building schools in Cambodia or helping the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan…to my friend Lynne Cage, who is involved in Lyme disease education…to my friend Rhonda Seiter, who is involved in numerous human rights causes…to my friend Kimberly Reeder, who works with children and motivates me to do things like feed the homeless. These are but a few of the people who light a fire in the inspiration department for me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fill David’s, Cherie’s or Barbara’s big shoes, making a life-changing difference in somebody’s world, but it is one challenge I gratefully accept.

Olivia Haiti Fundraiser

The love of my life, Olivia, age 6, raising money for the earthquake victims in 2010.

QUESTION: I would love to know how gratitude has played a part in your lives. Hearing other peoples’ stories always inspires me, and I’m sure it will spark somebody else’s imagination as well. I hope you’ll share your thoughts:

1) What is the best THANK YOU you ever received?

2) What type of THANK YOU are you most proud of having given somebody?

3) How do you “PAY IT FORWARD?”