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.

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


Opening Opportunities for Veterans- The LEGION Act

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There’s good news for US military veterans who want to connect with their community and be part of a strong veteran’s service organization. The eligibility requirements to join The American Legion have been modified and more people are now able to join.

The recent change is thanks to the LEGION Act which was enacted in July 2019 and will open the door for approximately 6 million veterans.

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The LEGION Act stands for Let Everyone Get Involved In Opportunities for National Service will enable more people to join the American Legion and gain access to its benefits and programs.  Click here for more information on the LEGION Act.

Now that the legislation has been signed, The American Legion’s eligibility criteria changes from seven war eras to two:  April 6, 1917 to Nov. 11, 1918, and Dec. 7, 1941 and continuing . No other restrictions to American Legion membership are changed.

The American Legion was chartered and incorporated by Congress in 1919 as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to community service and assistance.

With over 2 million members and more than 12,000 posts in communities throughout the United States, the Legion is the largest nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization.

Ahwatukee Post 64 is a very active in the local Phoenix, Arizona community and provides many volunteer services and support throughout the year, including:

  • Honor and Color Guard – over 50 events and ceremonies last year
  • Collection of used US flags and proper retirement
  • Benefits Assistance
  • Family Support
  • High School Oratorical Contest and Awards
  • Arizona Boys State sponsorship
  • School Awards and Scholarships
  • Homeless Outreach
  • Comfort for the Recovering
  • Honor and Remembrance ceremonies (POW-MIA)
  • Adopt-a-Street volunteering- Elliot-Warner Loop clean-up

For more information on The American Legion, click here.

To check out the Ahwatukee Post 64 website, click here.

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Members of Ahwatukee Post 64 Color Guard

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Respecting the Roses and the Violets

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Though we may disagree,

I respect you.

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I’m a Coordinator for Better Angels which is a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.

The group’s mission is to:

  • Try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it
  • Engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together
  • Support principles that bring us together rather than divide us

To learn more about Better Angels click here.

Strengthening our Social Fabric

‘Twas the night before Flag Day

And all through the pub.

Not a soldier was stirring,

Just the Chef and her grub!

 

The food was amazing,

The stories were grand.

Our fabric was strengthened,

We all loved the band!

I wrote the poem above after the contents of this blog were published in the Opinion section of my local newspaper, the Ahwatukee Foothill News and on the website Legiontown.org.

Here’s the original post.

Some would say that the fabric of American society is fraying due to decreased civic engagement and increased political polarization.  Last week I witnessed the complete opposite.

It was the night before Flag Day and I saw the strengthening of social bonds in a local restaurant where thirteen veterans and their spouses came together to share fun, stories and some delicious Irish stew.

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This positive and festive social gathering brought together US veterans from three generations to share in the spirit of camaraderie and strengthening community involvement.

 

Members from the Charles Schwab Military Veterans Network and Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 met at the Irish Hare Pub and Restaurant in Phoenix for some fun, food and story telling.

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Here our common values rallied about an important piece of cloth that symbolizes the unity and strength of our country- the flag that we have all pledged allegiance to.  The red, white and blue fabric on our table reminded us that we are Americans first.

We came together and toasted to our freedom which none of us will ever take for granted.

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It warmed my heart and gave me hope that people from different generations, professions, political leanings and walks of life can come together in a spirit of positive bonds of affection and shared experiences.

 

The Irish Hare is a great venue for social events, dinner and music and we all appreciated the support from the Proprietor Heidi Hamor who thanked us for our service and contributed to the raffle prizes with a snazzy, green shirt.  Other fun raffle prizes from the American Legion Post 64 included a US Flag and fun, patriotic cowboy hats.

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It was a simple yet spirited event that renewed my faith in the strength of local community bonds that are the underlying support for the fabric of our society.  I was happily reminded that I live in the United States of America where our flag is appreciated and rallied around in times of peace and war and serves as a common symbol of our shared principles and values.

 

The Courage to Communicate: From Bowling Alone to Better Angels

Being Aware

Bowling Alone

Bold Action

Better Angels

Add a “Q” and I give you Brenda’s Audacious Quest!

I now have the courage to communicate an important message and mission that I hope will resonate with you.

I feel that my 25 years as an active Toastmaster member has prepared me for this moment and I’m happy and excited to get started on a new and somewhat scary endeavor.

Written as a full sentence:

Over the course of time I became aware of the bold action needed to go from Bowling Alone to Better Angels.

At this point you may be asking-  what the hell am I talking about?

How much time?

What bold action?

What is Better Angels?

Simply put, my goal and quest is to help depolarize America.

What?

I want to improve our country’s health, one conversation at a time.

Why? 

Like many of you, I am saddened and tired of how divided we have become as a country.

Other reasons include my desire to:

  • Reduce our collective stress
  • Make our communities stronger
  • Increase civic engagement and bridging social capital

How?

I am an Organizer for Better Angels, a citizens’ organization that is uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. 

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So what does Bowling Alone have to do with this?

It all started in the early 1990s when I joined a bowling team called the Misfits.

I was living in northwest Arkansas in a town called Bentonville, the location of the world headquarters of my employer, Wal-Mart. 

To blow off some steam from my intense data center operations job, I joined a local bowling league and happily knocked down some pins every week with total strangers.  We named our team the Misfits and we proudly wore dorky, self- designed black T-shirts with a cheesy silk-screened logo. I had nothing in common with my teammates except the love of the game and the fact that we lived in the same state.  I didn’t remain in Arkansas for more than a few years but I have fond memories of the strong and happy social connections we shared.  Although we may have differed politically, religiously and socio-economically, we bonded and cared for each other.   To this day, I still love to bowl and miss my Misfit friends in Arkansas.

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The other major thing I did while living in Arkansas was join Toastmasters International.

My first experience was in a club called “Words R Us”. It was a diverse and jovial group ranging from southern Baptist preachers to Italian-American transplants from New York.  We all learned from each other and developed a wonderfully supportive culture of tolerance and inclusion.  The club was a true melting pot of ideas, styles and perspectives where everyone was welcomed and all views considered.  I remember enjoying the nights when we held actual debates in a point-counterpoint format.  Pastor Willie Brown was my favorite club member and I always enjoyed listening to his impassioned speeches even though I often disagreed with his point of view. His big smile and hearty laugh were many times the highlight of my week.

Another important and impactful memory I have is from a speech I gave in 2005 while I living in San Diego.   I was the Test Speaker at a Toastmaster Evaluation contest and the title of my speech was called “Bowling Alone”.  I remember using my bowling ball as a prop and discussing the importance and benefits of participating in bowling leagues and other community groups.  While stressing the importance of bridging social capital and community involvement, I lamented the fact that fewer and fewer people were joining and attending local clubs and events and this was having a negative effect on our country’s civic engagement.  My speech was inspired by the book by Robert D. Putnam titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” and focused how the reduction in all forms of in person social activities has caused a decline in social capital.   My message was powerful and I recall many people coming up to me after the speech to express their thoughts and concerns on the topic.

 

Five years after giving the “Bowling Alone” speech, I found myself living in Littleton, CO and a member of the Columbine Communicators Toastmasters club.   There I was again impacted and inspired by the events and people in the local community. The opening words of my presentation that cold day in 2010 were “another school shooting”.   My husband filmed this sober speech with its bold call to action and shared it on YouTube where it has been viewed 3,935 times.  The title of that speech was “Bowling Alone: How to Rebuild our Communities”.

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Fast forward nine years, two more moves and I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s 2019 and our country’s civil discourse is at crisis levels. 

The intense amount of polarization is startling to this socially engaged joiner of Toastmasters clubs across the county.  I never imagined that the United States of America would become so divided that friends and family members are not speaking to each because they support different political parties or candidates.

So here I am with my bowling background and public speaking experience, ready to try to bring people together to learn how to communicate again.

My audacious quest is simple yet lofty.

I want to help build bridges and real live connections to overcome our culture of contempt.

I want to help people to see the human faces of their family, friends and neighbors.

I want to help provide a safe environment and forum so people can begin to listen to the shared values and stories of those with whom they disagree.

I want to provide the skills and training for people to have productive conversations.

I want to bring together reasonable people of goodwill to have a sincere dialogue and a healthy competition of ideas.

I want to face fear and contempt with jovial strength and warm heartedness.

I want to listen and find common ground.

I want to disagree without being disagreeable.

I want to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s words below and be a Better Angel. 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

My name is Brenda Smull and I am organizing a free Communication Skills Workshop in Phoenix, AZ on June 15th, 2019.

Please spread the word and let me know your thoughts on my audacious goal.

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Capturing the Moment

Capturing the Moment

Lights, Camera and the Community in Action

As part of the Toastmasters in the Community series in my Ahwatukee club blog, I published this article last week.

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Sharing the emotion and meaning of a moment in unique and creative ways, Steve Smull has been behind the scenes with his camera and flash at countless Toastmasters, veteran and community events chronicling important occasions, messages and achievements.

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At a Veterans Day parade in Denver, CO

He considers himself an Image Documentarian who enjoys recording milestones and experiences with an eye to aesthetics where angle, context, composition and lighting are all continually considered and calculated.

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Speaking at a Career Fair for Veterans in  Phoenix, AZ

 

 

Steve learned the art of the craft from his father who was a professional photographer specializing in black and white prints.  Filming in Super 8 was also a skill he learned in his youth and drives his passion for videography today.

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Presenting a wreath at a Memorial Day service in Denver, CO

Steve gets the shot that helps share and promote the perspective and meaning of the scene.  By saving memories and images he helps memorialize and remember our past and the sacrifices many have made.  By reporting and educating, he honors our history and traditions one frozen moment at a time.

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The winners of a Poppy Queen contest

 

By documenting the impact, action and faces in the community, Steve aids his fellow volunteers in promoting and increasing awareness on their important causes.

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The Ahwatukee American Legion Color Guard in Arizona

 

Whether it’s a speech contest, a fundraiser gala, a  bike race or a solemn memorial service, Steve has a knack for artfully capturing the action, passion and beauty of the scene.

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At the Cyclocross Nationals Race in Boulder, CO

 

My Compelling Blog: Part 3 (GHI)

 

Welcome to Part 3 of my compelling blog where the letters GHI stand for Giving Heroes Inspire.

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My first role models were in my home and were my hard working and humble parents.

My next role models were in my school and were my inspiring teachers and supportive, caring coaches.

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My high school soccer coach, Jean Puf

The other amazing role models were in my community and were the volunteer members of my small town’s first aid squad and fire department.  They didn’t get paid but always responded to the loud siren call to help someone in need.

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These giving heroes inspired me to be a better person and I dedicate this blog to them.

The brave first responders in our community deserve our upmost respect and support.

The many selfless teachers and coaches in our schools should be appreciated, well paid and celebrated.

I am so grateful to my parents, siblings and extended family in NJ who instilled in me the importance of giving, helping and supporting others.

Let us never forget the sacrifice that the many Heroes in our midst make every day.