Hidden Treasures, Golden Bonds

Bill donated a gold nugget and came home with a treasure named Chester.

On Saturday, April 30, 2022, five members of Ahwatukee Post 64 volunteered at a local event called Coffee and Rigs in the parking lot of C2 Tactical in Tempe, AZ.  Their mission was to increase awareness of the benefits of joining the American Legion and recruit new members. 

Post 64 Members (l to r) Al Hunter, Brenda Smull, Pete Meier, Bill Musik and Jack Armstrong

The Coffee and Rigs event was the first of its kind and featured eight vendors/organizations including:  Off Road Warehouse, Turtleback Trailers, Buff City Soap, the American Legion Post 64, Rubicon Rescue, Precision Sports Accessories, and Circle R Farm Food truck.

The Post 64 table of brochures, flyers, flags, candy and historical Legion caps also included tickets for two raffle prizes- a one year family package membership at C2 Tactical and a 2.2 gram gold nugget.

Bill Musik, a Vietnam veteran, donated the gold nugget and discovered a wonderful treasure in return and adopted an adorable dog named Chester from the Rubicon Rescue team two tables down. Chester was perfectly suited to Bill because of their compatible stages in life. Bill had wanted a more senior pet that he could care for through the rest of the dog’s life.

Bill and Chester relax at home. Photo by Steve Smull

C2 Tactical provided Post 64 with the generous one-year membership and has been extremely supportive of Phoenix area First Responders, Veterans and animal rescue organizations.  C2 Tactical is generous with donations of membership packages, classes, and range time when asked and this April event was the third time to they have had Rubicon Rescue host a table at their community functions.

Rubicon Rescue dogs. Photo by Steve Smull

Rubicon Rescue, a local non-profit organization, brought eight dogs and a litter of tiny kittens to the event.  It was great news to hear that four dogs, including Chester, were adopted that day.  Rubicon Rescue’s Mission it to save abandoned, abused and injured shelter animals and they certainly made a positive impact toward this goal.

This event is part of a new PR and membership campaign at the Post 64 and was spearheaded and attended by Al Hunter, Jack Armstrong, Bill Musik and Brenda Smull.   Our Post Commander Pete Meier also supported our efforts at the table.

It was a positive and supportive showing at the Post’s table and the happy, spirited, and appreciative rescue dogs warmed everyone’s hearts.  

A precious face waiting to be adopted. Photo by Steve Smull

Building a Keynote Speech, One Story at a Time

I’ve begun working on a keynote speech and thought I’d share with you my idea and the process I’m using to craft it.

The working title is of my presentation is The Power of Small:  Sys-bits for Big Results.  The initial speech will be 20 minutes in length and is the main deliverable for a Toastmasters Pathway project (Level 5 in the Presentation Mastery path).

The concept for this keynote has been swirling around in my mind for many months and features ideas and tales about systems, habits and methodologies that I have used in the past 40 years to accomplish my goals.  My personal experiences as a unicycle rider, a Toastmaster, and a published author will be highlighted as I weave together the stories and points in support of my Power of Small approach.

My first story will describe my experience of learning to ride a unicycle when I was ten years old and how I, without knowledge or formal training, employed the principles of Agile and experimentation to achieve my lofty goal.

The second story of my keynote speech will chronicle the techniques and visualize tools I used to compile and publish my first book in five months.  Leveraging my Project Manager and Scrum Master skills allowed me to know which systems and habits to use to get the job done on time and under budget.   I also think that my “Power of Small” method of book writing improved my creativity and increased my quality.

The final story of my big speech about small steps will feature an analysis of the Toastmaster educational program called Pathways.  This proven system is an incremental learning experience designed to help members build the skills they need to be better communicator and leaders.

Another big step I’ve taken in my speech creation in hiring a professional Coach to assist me in refining, shaping and optimizing my words and my delivery.   More to come on this endeavor.

So that’s what I have to share with you thus far. 

The small steps of my journey to an amazing Keynote have begun and I’m excited to report my progress along the way to you.

A Spirited Launch at The Buzzed Goat

On November 4, 2021, I hosted a book launch party for Strong Words and Simple Truths in Phoenix, Arizona. The venue was a fun, independent coffee shop called The Buzzed Goat and Ernie the hedgehog fit right in.

Our spirited gathering included over 30 friends, coworkers, toastmasters and veterans. The energy in the room was electric and I was thrilled to be able to speak in front of a live audience.

Below is a video of my short presentation and tribute to military veterans.

Ernie and me at the book signing table

For more information on my book Strong Words and Simple Truths click here.

To order on Amazon, click here.

Building a Book with Agile

Building a Book with Agile

Earlier this year I embarked on a journey to write and publish my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths. After eight years of writing this blog, I knew I had enough content (102 Posts with over 50,000 words). The trick was figuring out how to knit together so many seemingly disparate topics into a cohesive and interesting story.

I had a mountain of ideas and knew I had to focus, organize and categorize.

The first thing I did was put on my Scrum Master hat and break out the pink and yellow sticky notes! For a definition of what a Scrum Master is click here.

With an Agile mindset, I set about the task of visualizing every blog post.  I did this by writing the title of every blog with a black marker on square sticky notes.   The pink notes covered the majority of the wall in my home office.  For more information on Agile click here.

The next step involved organizing and grouping the blog titles into themes or categories.  I ended up with eight themes that I wrote on larger, rectangular sticky notes.  I moved the smaller titles around on the wall so they were under the appropriate theme.  I let this display sit on my wall for many weeks and I spent hours staring at them to see how they looked together.  I moved some titles around and I removed over 20 blogs entirely.  This editing process was difficult but very important to the integrity and flow of the book.

The beginning stage of my blog grouping wall

The eight themes became the chapters of the book which are:  Communication, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, the 1980s, Gratitude, Science and Health, and Agile.

I built a storyboard of the eight chapters to help visualize the order and flow of the themes.  I evolved and iterated on this multiple times and landed on this display which includes the custom drawn illustrations by Alex Delit Garcia.

The Final Story board

The creation of the Table of Contents was quite simple as I ordered the blog titles chronologically under each chapter/theme.

To tie all of the chapters together, I chose a fun and symbolic circus theme.  Each chapter was represented by a character or element from the circus and I spun a tale about a curious girl named Elizabeth and her hedgehog friend, Ernie.  The story took us on a “run away and join the circus” journey and wove together all of the chapters’ topics with the Ringleader kicking things off.

The use of a creative and symbolic fiction story to tie together 80 non-fiction articles was a fun and effective way to compile and build a book in a short amount of time.  From the start of my sticky note wall display to the publication of the book was five months (including the creation of the chapter illustrations and the editing/formatting).

I often call my book a patchwork quilt of lifelong learnings, dreams and ideas and I hope you enjoyed my sharing of the stitching process!

For more information on Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, click here.

A Special Veterans Day

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the headline and photo on the front page of my local newspaper the Ahwatukee Foothills News yesterday. There I was, standing in front of The Buzzed Goat Cafe wearing my Post 64 American Legion hat. The picture was taken after a speech I gave at my book launch party. One of the main focuses of my short talk was to share my experience in the US military and pay tribute to the veterans and honor their service and sacrifice.

I read aloud the excerpt below from my book Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate.

Here is the introduction summary of Chapter 6: Veterans and Remembrance.

“Heroes are people who put themselves at risk for the benefit of others.” 

-Oliver North 

The first veterans I admired were my father, uncles, and cousins that served in the U.S. Military. Most of them, my dad included, were deployed across the globe to fight for freedoms during World War II. Their strength and resolve inspired me to become a leader and a servant to others. They were my Strong Man role models.

The idea of selfless service was instilled in me at an early age as I watched my parents and my dear cousins Joey, Patty, and Richie, volunteer for countless events at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Although my small hometown was only a few square miles, it was home to not one but two veteran organizations—The American Legion and the VFW. Every year when I was growing up, our town would have a Memorial Day parade that concluded at one of these two posts. In my family, Memorial Day was a special day marked by a solemn remembrance ceremony in the local cemetery. 

My time on active duty in the U.S. Army in the early 1990s was relatively short and painless, but it left a lasting imprint on my perspective, leadership style, and values. 

After college, I learned of the “Duty, Honor, Country” mantra of the U.S. Military Academy. I never forgot the crucial importance of remembrance and respect for those who have sacrificed in service to their nation. 

The veterans I have encountered have a strong sense of integrity and commitment to their families, friends, and community. They are a tough and resilient lot who are some of the most kind, generous, and boisterous people I know. 

The Strong Man is my tribute to all people who have served their countries and communities. Please join me as I share some of my thoughts on this important topic. 

Happy Veterans Day!

Here’s a link to the newspaper article.

For more information, check out my website.

A Book Is Born!

I did it!

I published my first book, Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate, on Amazon today.

To those who have been following and reading my blog over the past 8 years, I thank you for your interest and support of my thoughts, ideas and stories.

Words can not express the joy and elation I am feeling today. This is my baby. My legacy. My tribute to my family, friends, fellow veterans, and Toastmasters.

Over the last few months I have created new content and stories to weave the last 8 years of articles together. The book has 8 Chapters (Epics/Themes) where I grouped the over 80 blogs.

The chapters are: Communications, Toastmasters, Creativity, Veterans, Gratitude, the 1980s, Agile, and Science/Health.

What is the book about?

  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s

An amazingly talented young woman illustrated the book with a fun circus theme that my mascot Ernie the Hedgehog endorses. Kudos to Alex Delit Garcia for her great work.

I don’t know what is next but boy am I excited and energized to share this news with you.

If you would like to purchase this fun compilation with a new, creative adventure throughout, please click on the image below for your very own copy. Here’s the book’s website.

Thank you!

What’s It All About?

Since 2013, I’ve been sharing my thoughts, ideas and stories on this blog. I enjoy writing and will continue to post here with fun and interesting photos that are harder to share in a printed book.

As I have stated in my last post, I am about to publish my first book on Amazon and have been mentally preparing for the inevitable question- What is the book about?

Since Strong Words and Simple Truths is a compilation of nine years of articles on a wide range of subjects, the answer to that query is not fitting into my normally pithy response box.

During my bike ride this morning, I came up with the following bullets to describe what the book is about.

I hope to have it live on Amazon in October 2021. Please check out www.thecouragetocommunicate.com for more details.

  • Balance, Perspective and Change
  • Strength, Tolerance and Respect
  • Science, Health and History
  • Gratitude, Remembrance and Joy
  • Creativity, Toastmasters and the 1980s
  • Heroes, Adventure and Fun
  • Truth and Common Sense
  • Veterans, Poppies and Honor
  • Courage, Communication and the American Spirit
Illustration by Alex Delit Garcia

Big News for Strong Words

I have exciting news to share!

I am working to publish my first book Strong Words and Simple Truths: The Courage to Communicate based on the contents of this blog.

Below is a sneak preview of the book’s Foreword. I plan to publish it on Amazon in Q4 2021.

http://www.thecouragetocommunicate.com

There are over one hundred and seventy thousand commonly used words in the English language, but most people employ just a fraction of them in their daily lives. Many people yearn to find and articulate the truth. The courage to communicate has many meanings; each of us struggling to get our voices heard brings our own understanding and desires to the process. I bring my understanding of communication and wish to be heard to this book.

Growing up in a large family in the northeastern United States, I learned the value of direct and powerful communication. I still appreciate the emphatic and heartfelt style of my New Jersey upbringing and have spent my adult life honing my skills through key programs, paths, and career choices. 

I believe that strong words have the power to catalyze change, that direct communication has value, and that words have energy.I believe that words are best when they are consumable, easily understood, and impactful.

I also believe that simplicity in communication is elegant. Simple is clear and honest and true. The most delicious recipes have five or fewer ingredients. My Mom’s delicious rice pudding comes to mind. But alas, communication is not always as simple as a recipe.

From this understanding came the title of my first WordPress blog, Strong Words and Simple Truths, which I began writing in 2013. The title encompasses everything I believe about communication, and I have not changed the focus or intent of the phrase in my nine years of blogging. 

I always have an idea that I’d like to share, so I’ve continued thinking, speaking, and blogging about communication since 2013. I am rarely at a loss for words.

Some of the articles I published on my blog were adapted from speeches I gave at Toastmaster meetings. Other times, I would challenge myself to convert a blog article into a speech. I found the challenges of the back-and-forth creations fun and fascinating. This process taught me the important lesson that the spoken word is quite different from the written word, and through this hard work I learned to be more flexible and creative in my communication style.

This book invites you to accompany me on a journey of discovery through a curated selection of over eighty articles from my blog. When I decided to compile these articles into a book, I knew that the same title, Strong Words and Simple Truths, would perfectly express what I am trying to convey. Little did I know when I started writing my blog that the extreme events of 2020 and 2021 would make my pithy title and subtitle all the more relevant and important.

So here I am, sharing in the most powerfully vulnerable way I have ever attempted. Blogging and public speaking are one thing, but publishing a book has brought me to a whole new level of commitment to my beliefs and my message.

The format of this book was inspired by author and fellow veteran, Ed Latimore. His book, Not Caring What Other People Think Is a Superpower: Insights from a Heavy Boxer, was an outstanding compilation of his tweets, which includes strong and powerful lessons of life.  

In this book, I blend the creative power of agility, communication, history, and science to create a patchwork quilt of my ideas, stories, and dreams.

I am honored to share the stories of the people and personalities who shaped who I am today. While I may not have been completely fearless as a child, the role models I emulated were feisty, strong, and spirited. Many of the themes in this book were inspired by my mom, Virginia, my brother, Bill, and my sister, Barbara. During elementary and high school, I was encouraged and guided by many amazing and motivational teachers and coaches.Ihad role models from the entertainment world as well. I desired to be as daring as Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett and as strong as Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman.

These role models were heroes to me, and they inspired me to branch out and achieve the substantial and audacious goals I set for myself. I hope they will inspire you to do the same. 

As a young adult, I had two different career aspirations. In high school, I wanted to be a medical doctor. After college, I considered becoming a science teacher.The common thread through my life is the desire to help people, share knowledge, and train others to learn new skills.

In this book, I’ll also share lessons from mymilitary service, which taught me the importance of KISS- Keep It Simple Soldier (or Stupid as some would joke). As a US Army Signal Corps officer, I supported combat and support units on the battlefield with precise and effective communication infrastructure and procedures.When lives depend on clear, concise, and timely messages, you learn to value their quality greatly.

My wish is that you find this book entertaining and educational, and I hope that it motivates you in creative and unique ways. I also pray that these words, thoughts, and expressions pay adequate tribute to the brave and selfless heroes in our world. 

I have grouped the blog articles into eight sections. Each article includes the original publication date and appears as it originally appeared on the blog (with some proofreading to correct minor issues). I stitched the articles together much as a quilter would piece together colorful fabrics to create an intricate and appealing pattern. To keep things fun, I chose a theme from the magical world of the circus.

The sections of this book represent the main interests, influences, values, priorities, and passions in my life, each linked to a symbolic element from the circus.To aid the reader in remembering the sections and their symbols, I created a brief tall tale to open the book. 

  1. Ringmaster—Communication
  2. Big Tent—Toastmasters
  3. Juggler—Creativity
  4. Wheels—Agile
  5. Strong Man—Veterans, Remembrance and Traditions
  6. Laughter—Connections and Gratitude
  7. Unicycle—The 1980s
  8. Animals—Science and Truth

When you read the Table of Contents, you can think of it as a menu for a smorgasbord dinner which allows you to select the topics that most appeal to you. It’s a collection of various perspectives, angles, and tastes.

Come on, let’s run away and join the circus for a few hours! 

The Big Tent: Toastmasters Center Ring

I am crafting the introduction to the Toastmaster section of my upcoming book, Strong Words and Simple Truths and wrote penned (literally in a paper journal with an ink pen) the short poem below. Words flow differently when you write them by hand. While awkward at first, they soon loosened up.

Toastmasters

Where Speakers are Sharpened and Words are Wondrous.

Where Leaders are Made and Alliteration is Alluring.

Where Communicators are Courageous and Friendships are Fostered.

Ernie the Hedgehog Makes Waves and Brings Smiles

Ernie came to our family in 2016 while we were visiting Estes Park, CO. He’s a 2 and a half-inch bundle of joy and mischievous antics. He is a great photography model and always brings a smile to the waitresses at the restaurants we frequent.

Ernie is an internationally renowned Facebook Group leader and has been spreading happiness and cheer since starting the Ernie’s Fake News group in early 2017. Back when you could still joke about the election, the craziness of politicians,and the new media, we had a laugh poking fun at the insanity of the process. He specializes in satire and slapstick humor when though they are out of favor on most social media platforms now.

For hundreds of people around the world, Ernie’s page is a stress-relieving sanctuary where all are encouraged to think like a 2.5 year old, apolitical hedgehog who loves cookies and playing jokes on his parents. He is also an enterprising entrepreneur who starts a new job 2-3 times a day. While his fear of water is subsiding, we are always sharing zany photos of his new hydrophobia therapists who are rarely human.

This extraordinary Facebook group has had a number of different names over the years including: Ernie’s Fake News, Ernie’s Sandbox, Ernie’s Emporium , Ernie’s Oasis and most recently, Ernie’s Last Stand.

When I asked the FB group members to comment on what they loved most about Ernie’s group, they replied:

“ I love having a place where I can be honest.”  – Candy Lanning Holmgren

“ Where to start, ma ‘am?  I think Ernie’s stoic leadership in the face of constant threat of bans for thinking too much…. “  – Steed Owe

“Ernie for President…”-  Mike Hill

“Ernie gets my silly memes.” – Calliope Novak

“Ernie is never mean.” – Billie Batek

“Ernie’s taste in subversion is second to none.” – Eric Edelman

“Ernie loves cookies!”- Biggi Wimmer

“Ernie’s got a great wheel to follow on flowing but chunky single-track.” – Jeff Meyer

“Ernie lets me read his fan mail.” – Steve Smull

The Facebook Group’s Requested Style Guide simply states:

Think like a 2 ½ year old, 2 ½ inch tall apolitical hedgehog who is allergic to political bias and likes to keep the bar at least an inch off the floor.

The magic of this group is that it is a safe and happy playgroup where Ernie invites us to live, laugh and eat many cookies.  The small community of followers feels like an extended family who are helping to raise our impetuous young hedgehog.