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.  

Word Phobia Kills Creativity

Words have power. 

As a public speaker in Toastmaster clubs for over 25 years, I understand and appreciate the impact of a well-crafted phrase.   Words have the immense power to inspire, educate, persuade and entertain.

Now certain ideas, phrases and books are deemed inappropriate and unacceptable.   Entertainment in the form of humor and satire is slowly being extinguished.   The creative spark of many minds is being snuffed out.

In the name of “compliance” and “correctness” we have limited and constrained our ability to share and discuss ideas.  Only the government-approved ideas are allowed on the most powerful and prolific platforms.  Those in power control the narrative and are now limiting the free exchange and expression of thought.

Like the lockdowns of the past year, this is not a healthy trend.  The impact of the current silencing is devastatingly sad. 

Some say that laughter is the best medicine.  Entertainment and light-hearted comedy can help heal our lonely and wounded souls. 

Humor is a uniquely human superpower that is being taken away when we need it most.

Photo by Steve Smull

I do not condone angry, hurtful speech but the recent crack down on “violations of community standards” is a bit harsh and extreme in my view.  

Why do some powerful entities want to keep everyone so sad, anxious and upset?  Do they want people do remain lonely, isolated and frustrated?

More and more I am witnessing creative creators being suppressed.  These creators have been a shining light of entertaining wordplay and comic relief through out this year of dark fear and despair.  These fun and joyful voices are now stifled and suppressed. 

The fear of the virus is now being replaced with the fear of words.   The wide, rich and expressive vocabulary of the English language is being brutally pruned by oppressive control freaks.  

At the rate things are going, I soon won’t be able to write or speak the words “oppressive control freaks” without being banned or punished.

As I continue on my creative journey of expression, I hope that my courage and resolve remain steady and strong in the face of increasing pressure to conform and be quiet.

Word phobia is a sad new condition that I hope will be treated by an infusion of ingenious humor and reasonable common sense.

As the world begins to heal and open up, freedom will beget happiness.  Happiness is sustained by fun entertainment.  

Words have the power to entertain, let’s not take that potential away.

The Silence of the Lambs is a thrilling book, but I don’t want a world of the Quieting of the Sheep.

Photo by Steve Smull

Ways to Connect

There are many ways to get your message to others.

Written words, spoken words, gestures, music, songs, drawings, photos, smoke signals, flags and sign language are methods to communicate with others.

Today, I’m experimenting with a new way to connect.

Click below for my first 30 second emoji video.

More thoughts, ideas and messages to come in this short, fun format. There are so many cool animals and avatars to choose from.

Ernie our hedgehog is ready for Spring

Below is Ernie playing shuffleboard at a VFW post in Leander, Texas.

A Marvelous Facebook Universe

Step right up! Don’t be shy!  

Dare to venture into the wonderful world of social distortion, um, I mean media. 

Ah yes, social media, the place where healthy and productive conversations go to die.

If you are tired, frustrated and/or annoyed with your Facebook newsfeed, I have some good news for you.

I welcome you to join me as we enter Steve’s Emporium of Internet Delights.  My best friend and husband, Steve, has been the driving force behind what I’m about to share with you and I have been a behind-the-scenes contributor and co-administrator to these shenanigans.

Steve Smull, Creative Word Master

To revitalize your Facebook experience, I encourage you to check out the Groups.  

The well run, upbeat Facebook groups are where it’s at if you are looking for a positive, entertaining and creative place to let loose. 

Steve has created six lively Facebook groups that are cheerful, happy islands for people around the world. These communities are relatively small and have active, spirited participation.  Though the groups are lightly moderated with minimal rules from the admins, rude, intolerant or aggressive behavior is rarely, if ever, seen.

Below are the six zany groups that we shepherd:

  • Ernie’s Oasis– Started in 2016 as Ernie’s Fake News, this group is my all-time favorite and features the ongoing antics and silly stories of our adorable hedgehog Ernie (see photo above).  This humorous site is truly a happy-place getaway for many people. 
  • Dysfunctional Communicators– This newly formed group takes satire, sarcasm and word play to a new level.  Here the admins leverage their Toastmaster experience to assist with communication challenges.
  • Lame-0’s– A cross between Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Beavis and Butthead. Serious adults need not apply.
  • We Are Not Aliens From Outer Space– Out of this world photos and discussions of other galaxies.
  • Run Away and Join the Circus– A free-wheeling group with escapist themes.
  • The Reasons Why We Are Leaving This Group– A never ending list of reasons why people are exiting stage right.

If you are craving light-hearted banter, productive dialogues, satire, unusual angles, great photos and fun stories with witty wordplay in a tolerant, supportive environment, these Facebook groups and others like them are the place for you.

Come have a marvelous time in the positive Facebook universe where you get some relief from the stress and strife of tedious newsfeeds.  

 Ernie is waiting for you with a big cookie and a smile!

There are also various animals to help you be a better communicator.

Follow the Energy- Part 1

The shift in energy has been swift and dramatic.  This thought has been on my mind for months prior to the great Texas blackout of February 2021.  Having lived in Austin for short time, I empathize with the plight of millions of people who were at the mercy of mother nature, unreliable technology and incompetent business and government leaders. 

My original idea for this article started with these three lines:  

  • Energy is Currency
  • Currency is Money
  • Follow the Energy

I was planning to address the main patterns and trends I have observed since the US Elections in November 2020, namely the shifts in:

  1. Social energy and influence- communication and persuasion
  2. Distribution of energy- wealth and power 
  3. Suppression or enhancement of energy- fossil fuels and renewables

Now, as I reflect on the physics book definition of energy and power, I have chosen to take a different angle. More on the three points above will come in Part 2 of this Energy blog.

While energy is the capacity for doing work and the ability to create change, power is energy per unit of time.  These technical definitions can be applied to people, communities and governments.

I have been drawn to the concept of energy for weeks. Call it the Law of Attraction but my increased attention on the idea caused a sharp increase in energy related experiences in my life. Everywhere I look, I see energy analogies and references.

The word energy is a noun with 9 meanings (like my cat) while the word power has 20 meanings as a noun and 5 has a verb.

Power and energy are hot topics in the news and I can’t help but draw some parallels between what is happening with shifts in physical energy (potential and kinetic) with the dramatic changes in human energy (social and spiritual). 

As world leaders create pacts and sign accords in an effort to reduce the impact of climate change on the planet,  major changes in our fuel sources are being proposed.  Renewable energy is all the rage as fossil fuels and nuclear energy are vilified.  Wind and solar power are being elevated and pushed to replace coal, oil and natural gas. Our fuel mix is changing as painfully displayed during the Texas/ERCOT energy crisis of this month.

Our social fuel mix has also been dramatically altered.   As an extrovert, I used to derive a good amount of energy from real, live interactions with others.  Now, after 11 months of relative isolation, my energy levels are low.  My ability to do work is diminished.  My public speaking skills are stalling out and running on fumes.

As millions of Texans huddled in their homes for days without electricity or running water, I kept thinking, why didn’t ERCOT and the government plan ahead more for these situations. What were the contingencies plans if multiple lines of energy sources fail?  

Taken to the human and social energy level, what have we done to replenish our emotional fuel sources that have been so abruptly and drastically reduced? 

While Zoom meetings and online happy hours are trying to fill the gaps and maintain social connections, they are about as energizing as a Texas wind turbine on a 25 degree day.  

Humans are social creatures by nature and need personal interactions to maintain healthy relationships and strong immune systems.

So as I enter an empty office building each day, I long for the in-person collaboration meetings and hallway greetings and interactions.   Giving a speech in front of a live audience is something I crave more than chocolate. My Toastmaster clubs’ membership levels are anemic as we wait patiently for an infusion of energy.   More than ever, I appreciate the power of human interaction and communication.  

Like coming out of a freeze-induced power outage, I hope that the COVID-19 isolation impacts will thaw soon and allow us to recharge with the amazing energy of smiles, hugs and personal interactions.  

When my Mom entered it room, it lit up with her smile.  I miss her dearly and know that many people are craving that form of warmth and love.

A positive shift in energy and focus is needed to maintain the crucial connections that keep our communities strong.  

The power of human interactions is sustainable and renewable and should not be neglected during times of crisis.

At the Root of the Matter

If the root is not known

The cure won’t be shown.

The cause is the key

To protect you and me.

So much can be solved by identifying the underlying cause of a problem.

Treating or masking the symptoms does not help prevention or long term recovery.

Whether your challenges are medical, financial, technical or personal relationship related, getting to the root cause is critical to resolving them.

Photo by Daniel Watson on Pexels.com

My team at work spends the majority of their time conducting Incident Reviews and Root Cause Analysis sessions where we investigate and discover what went wrong, why did the IT system fail and what can be done to prevent reoccurrence. The most important part of the process is the peeling back of the onion by asking multiple Why questions. The Five Whys is an effective methodology that can be applied to all aspects of our lives.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Top of mind for the majority of the planet’s population is the concern and fear of COVID-19. How can we best treat it? How do we prevent it?

While I am hopeful that the new vaccines will stem the spread of the virus, I wish that more attention would be given to the underlying health conditions that are severely hurting (and killing) certain populations in a disproportionate manner. Instead of obsessing over masks and lockdown effectiveness, why aren’t the WHO, the CDC and our government officials screaming from tops of the trees that a healthy weight and lifestyle are the best weapons against this disease. The word comorbidity seems like a polite, PC way to say unhealthy. The underlying cause of the most prevalent health risks are a poor diet and exercise habits and unfortunately, being in lockdown does not make it easy to eat well and work out.

If the root is not known, the cure won’t be shown.

Oh how I wish we would spend more time and energy to identify the underlying reasons of why a problem or bad condition has occurred.

Remember, the cause is the key to protect you and me!

Asking Why multiple times may provide the answer.

Photo by PhotoMIX Company on Pexels.com

Now More Then Ever- The Importance of the American Legion’s Mission

In this time of Covid-19, the mission of the American Legion is more critical than ever. As the nation’s largest veterans service organization, the wide reaching programs should be increasingly mobilized to meet the members’ needs.

Two pillars of the American Legion’s mission statement stand out to me as being the most important during these challenging times:

  • Devotion to fellow service members and veterans
  • Advocating patriotism and honor

In this time of lockdowns, loneliness and isolation, we need the continued devotion to our fellow members to keep everyone’s spirits up. The health and wellbeing of millions of veterans is the focus and our selfless service to others will keep our communities strong. 

Photo by Matthias Zomer on Pexels.com

In this time of disunion and polarization, we need to be advocating positive patriotism and honor.  By rallying around a common objective we can strengthen America in its battle against the coronavirus.

Now is the time to unite around our shared values and binding symbols, the stars and stripes of the US flag. Now is the time to set aside political differences and take care of each other.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The headwinds we face as a nation are great but I remain confident that we will overcome and rise to the occasion.   The United States has faced countless challenges in our 245-year history and the patriotic, generous and giving spirit of Americans won’t be shaken.

I’ll leave you with words from Johnny Cash’s song “Ragged Old Flag”

“In her own good land here she’s been abused 
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused

And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land

And she’s getting threadbare and wearing thin
But she’s in good shape for the shape she’s in

‘Cause she’s been through the fire before
And I believe she can take a whole lot more

So we raise her up every morning
We take her down every night
We don’t let her touch the ground and we fold her up right

On second thought, I do like to brag
‘Cause I’m mighty proud of that ragged old flag.”

Photo by Steve Smull


Wise Wishes: 3 Gifts for 2021

As millions of people around the world celebrate Three Kings Day and the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, I reflect upon the power of three.

As is written in the Bible’s Book of Matthew, three kings/wise men/magi came from the east to Bethlehem to present three gifts to a new born child named Jesus.

If you were magically granted three wishes, what would they be?

More than anything, I want the following three things for our world in 2021:

  1. Trust
  2. Courage
  3. Common Sense

These simple values are mighty and powerful and are sadly in short supply.

The global pandemic of 2020 has frayed the fabric of society’s faith and confidence in so many governments and institutions.

I pray that our world leaders, families, friends and neighbors can receive this trinity of goodness.

Trust, courage and common sense are invaluable in the face of today’s immense challenges.