The White Elephant in the Room

Eat, drink and be merry for it may just save your life

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I was happy to attend a festive holiday party with my Ahwatukee Toastmaster friends last week and little did I realize that it was supporting an anti-cancer lifestyle.

 

The annual white elephant gift exchange is a lively and often hilarious tradition at many Toastmaster year-end gatherings and this one did not disappoint.  The devious antics played out and the most “stolen” gifts were a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure and a particular plunger of questionable origin ( new, with tag).

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The biggest gift of the evening came to me a few hours after the party, while I was reading in bed. While scrolling through notification messages on Facebook, I noticed an interesting article posted by my good friend Nancy in Texas.  I clicked on the story and dove into an intriguing piece written by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, a Houston based Professor and Researcher who introduced the “Mix of Six” as a way to reduce ones risk of developing cancer.

At this point you may be wondering, is the mix of six some new drink recipe?

No, it’s not the latest libation trend but rather group of factors and lifestyle choices which, when combined, can radically transform health and delay or prevent many cancers.

The Mix of Six factors include:

  1. Social and Emotional Support
  2. Stress Management
  3. Sleep
  4. Physical activity
  5. Diet
  6. Environmental toxins

The bonus is that the fun, laughter and social connectedness I enjoyed from the joyous Toastmaster event was supporting my health in ways I never imagined (plus the food, especially the homemade samosas, was delicious).

Bottom line: Emotional support and fellowship is the best medicine for combating loneliness and illness.

The White Elephant in the room could be your best Doctor!

But wait, there’s more!

Research shows that having a strong circle of positive, supportive family and friends helps with stress management which in turn helps with sleep.  It’s like getting a 3 for 1 deal toward your the magical mix of six.

Warning:  Overstuffing on holiday food and drink can be can be slippery slope and should be enjoyed in moderation.  

So be present and give yourself the gift of health this holiday season.   Enjoy connecting with others in the light heartened spirit of sharing, laughing and sometimes “stealing” a white elephant gift!

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Festive gatherings and silly, zany gift exchanges are a fun and wonderful way to share in a circle of wellness and jolly goodwill.

So eat, drink and be merry for it may just save your life.

Happy Mix of Six!

Calm, Steady and Flying Strong

I cautiously boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Austin to Phoenix last Thursday, two days after the horrific engine failure that took the life of Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two.   I quickly found myself a window seat like a normally do but this one was the second row, much closer to the front of the plane than I usually get.  I guess more people were choosing aisle seats that week.

The story of the dramatic emergency landing by Navy veteran Tammi Jo Shults captured my attention and made me reflect on what it means to be a hero. 

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A gift from Angie. Photo by Steve.

The news of the tragic event hit home for me since I have been flying on Southwest in window seats overlooking the engine numerous times this year.   The details of how the plane was forced to make a harrowing and rapid descent after one of the engines exploded in midair was chilling to say the least.

Hero is a word that gets used a lot in the news today and is often associated with masculine acts of strength and bravery.   Stereotypes and Google images bring up muscled men with capes.

Stereotypes Shattered in desert wars and at 30,000 feet

My experience and observations on the battlefield during the first Persian Gulf war were that the women Army officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) I served with in the US Amy were rocks-  strong and solid leaders who were calm under pressure and seemingly less agitated than their male counterparts.

Last week, I was most impressed by the calm and collected voice of Southwest Captain Tammi Jo in comparison to the stressed and strained vocals of the man communicating with her from Air Traffic Control.  The former F-18 fighter pilot was composed, steady and in control of the situation.  Her skill, professionalism and “nerves of steel” were recorded for everyone to hear and I loved it!

And then there was Peggy Phillips, the confidence and self-assured Registered Nurse who performed over 20 minutes of CPR on the battered and severely injured Jennifer Riordan.  There was no question, no hesitation- Peggy just launched into action doing what she was trained to do.

When praised and called heroes these woman replied that they were “simply doing their jobs”. These women were doing what they were trained to do, performing at the high standard they set for themselves.

Yes, Tammi Jo and Peggy did their jobs that day with the strength and the skill of true professionals.   True heroines who were calm and steady and refreshingly humble.

Imagine a world without heroes.   I can’t because I know too many strong, capable women.  Women who are Mothers and above all else love, support and nurture their children. Women who make sacrifices to give their families the best that they can.

The Mothers I know may not be piloting a plane in an emergency landing but day in and day out they work their asses off and make a positive difference in their kid’s lives.  Just like my Mom did for me and my siblings.

Mothers are Heroes.  Women like my Mom, Virginia; my sister, Barbara; my niece, Heather; my sisters-in-law, Shanon and Katie and my dear friends Andrea and Marie.  They all have and continue to impress me.

They are the unsung heroines of the never-ending drama and psychological thriller we know as life.

These heroes may not wear capes but I can visualize a large “S” across each of their chests.    They are more than Super, they are Supreme.

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Mother and child I photographed at a Me Rah Ko “The Photo Mom” seminar in Bastrop, TX

The Super Hero Mothers I know and had the great honor of being raised by may not have piloted an F-18 or a Boeing 737 but they are masterfully navigating, guiding and steering their families under enormous amounts of stress, pressure and sometimes chaos.

It is these women that I deeply respect.  It is to these heroes that I salute.

I thank Tammi Jo Shults and Peggy Phillips for their skills and bravery last week on Southwest flight 1380 for they have rekindled in me the passion and motivation to appreciate and recognize all the calm, steady and strong heroes in our midst.

Thanks Mom!

You Want Me to Change?

 

You want me to change?

What a simple but profound question to ask. What a bold request to make.

Change is hard. Change is painful. Why do I need to Change?

In the spirit of being Agile, I’d rather talk about adaptive transformation. It sounds so much more fun and interesting!

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Looking back in my blog archives, I realize that I have dipped my toe into this topic a few times in articles like “A Tower of Change” and “Dying to Adapt”.  I was having fun with my Tarot cards in late 2016 and the Death and Tower cards kept showing up so I reflected on them and wove them into the chaotic current events of the day.   “A Matter of Perspective” and a few other articles also danced around this difficult and daunting theme.

As I watch the train wreck that has become our nation’s political discourse, I am concerned that people are losing the ability to communicate with each other. How we converse and share information has changed so rapidly and dramatically in just 10 years that it makes my head spin.

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The Facebook and Twitter threads I see today make me wonder, are we able to “change” another person’s mind or position on anything?

As witnessed on social media every day, I don’t see much give and take on ideas where people disagree. I see a whole lot of confirmation bias and reinforcement of one’s existing views and values. I see many instances of digging in on positions and not much changing or adapting.

Why is it so hard to Change?

If I called you live on the phone right now and asked you to describe what change feels like, what would you say?

For me and many others the adjectives painful, stressful and uncomfortable would probably top the list.

The DailyOM blog by Madison Taylor sent me an article last week titled “Anxiety about Change”.   It seems to be on the minds of many people.

Change is Difficult. No Pain, No Gain, right? Every competitive athlete understands this mantra but most people’s default setting is to take the path of least resistance. The easy way and the status quo are like a close, dysfunctional couple and breaking up is hard to do!

At work I keep hearing the words and phrases Transformation, Agile Maturity, Accelerators and Radical Change being used in the context of staying competitive and relevant in the market. Being a disruptive Change Agent is a good thing in today’s world and it is being rewarded with dollars, likes and followers. Adaptive transformation is sometimes critical to one’s survival.

If change is such an important aspect to survive in this world, why is it so hard?

Why do humans usually respond to change with the reflective impulse to resist it?

Most of our major change of life events are made easier and less stressful with rituals and ceremonies that typically involve the abundant intake of food and/or alcohol.

 

Think about graduation parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funeral repasts. These are all times of big and scary change.

 

Evolve or die may seem a bit extreme but is an understood reality in our competitive business and technology world today. Remember what happened to Kodak moments and our once beloved Blackberry devices. They didn’t transform quickly enough and now they are a footnote in history.

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In more tame Agile terms, the iterative process of Build, Test, Inspect and Adapt is a continuous and beautiful flow of events that occurs over and over in short time increments (sprints). This flow makes change easier since it is done is smaller chunks (think baby steps).

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Playdough and Juggling Balls displaying Incremental Change

And if you fail, it is best to Fail Fast and start sprinting again.

I’ll close with the wise words of Ray Dalio from his book “Principles where he states:

“Evolution is good because it is a process of adaption that generally moves things toward improvement.”

“The faster one appropriately adapts, the better.”

I also appreciate Mr. Dalio’s equation: Pain + Reflection = Progress

The question is: Are we ready to embrace the discomfort and potential failure so that we can change and get to a better place?

Are we open to adaptive transformations to get us to a higher level?

None of my questions have simple, easy answers but I do think that if we strive to keep our lenses clear and both eyes open like I discuss in  “A View on Balance”  and “A Matter of Perspective“ then perhaps we can frame our challenges in a new light and take the small, incremental steps to evolve to a different and better way.

Looking at an issue or a challenge from a completely different angle can help us adapt and evolve to improve the situation.

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On the topic of changing other people’s views and opinions on Social Media – upon further reflection, I don’t see this as a reasonable or easily attainable goal and will instead focus on changing myself in the hope that others will see my values in action.

So let’s hear it for real live Adaptive Transformations!

Taken in smaller, bite-sized chunks, change doesn’t have to be so painfully hard.

Fun footnote:

The title of this blog is the chorus of this catchy tune by the group Churchill.

Click here for the fun and  cool video of the song “Change”.

I listened to this tune while writing these words and it gave me additional motivation and inspiration. It greased the skids in my mind and helped me get unblocked. Maybe it can do the same thing for you.

 

Stranger Things Part 2: The Resurgence of D&D

Once upon a time in a land called Spotswood, there lived a small band of boys who wanted to escape to faraway places. Some were heroes and some were villains but all were creatively powerful. The young lads were named Peter, Chris, Bob and Jake. Led by a Dungeon Master, they met every week to map out their adventures and roll the dice for their fate.

The group ducked out of the doldrums of tedious tasks from school and created a magical world beyond anyone’s dreams. It was wondrous place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation was the boundaries of their imaginations.

A small square of land inside the boundaries of the brook and the streets of Bruning, Maiden and Manalapan became mystical whenever the boys met to embark on their adventures by waging war against the monsters.

Each boy became a rich and clever character with varying abilities and they often worked together to strategize, solve problems and overcome challenges. Other times they plotted and schemed and sought more control and power.

Some were Human and some were Elves. Others were Dwarfs or Wizards.

No matter what class they were, they assembled face to face around the table to slay monsters like Dragons, Giants, Orcs and Demogorgons. 

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In my last article “Friends Don’t Lie and other Stranger Things”, I highlighted how the elements of Freedom and Adventure were more prevalent for kids growing up in 1980s and were fostered by the very popular role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). The lack of electronic distractions combined with the creative power of the face-to face interactions with a dedicated group of ongoing characters propelled a generation of geeks and nerds into one of the most innovative and explosive periods of American prosperity, the 1990s.

Dungeons_and_Dragons_-_Chapter_1One of the things that fascinated me most about the Netflix series, Stranger Things, was the central and influential role the D&D-like game played. The plot, time frame and characters were perfectly set and most Generation Xers will proudly tell you that the story line would not have worked as well in another other decade.

 

When I was a young girl, my heroes were Wonder Woman and Samantha Stephens from Bewitched. Science fiction and fantasy were my favorite books thanks to my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Muschla. So as you might imagine, I love the idea of average, ordinary possessing special powers that enables them to kick ass and defeat the stronger villains and monsters.

Role-playing games like D&D are so popular because they so strongly tap into that primal urge to be secure and defeat any threat to one’s safety. It is all the more fun and appealing when you add in a sprinkle of magical powers that help you slay an evil foe with a bit of fire and flair! Merlin and Harry Potter showed us this.

Although I wasn’t an elf or a witch or even a fairy, I had a carefree and adventurous childhood growing up in Spotswood, NJ. Everyone in the neighborhood knew each other by name and we all played together in the streets and explored in the woods and by the outlets, rivers and lakes.

I grew up on a small street called Maiden Lane and soon branched out with friends on Bruning Lane and Manalapan Road. After junior high school my world expanded to include friends from faraway places like East Brunswick, Milltown and Old Bridge (they were really only a few miles away).MaidenLanePorch_cropped

The close-knit friendships we forged in the 1980s were organic and lasting. The creative minds and sense of unlimited potential propelled us on an exciting journies to battle strange enemies and malevolent beings. Little did I know it would send me to the Persian Gulf in 1990 to fight in a war against Saddam Hussein but that is a story for another blog!

During school, my circle of friends was diverse and interesting included a quirky group of kids. They were mostly marching band members who were smart and dare I say slightly dorky. I had the fun and privilege to watch some of them play D&D for hours on end and was fascinated by the creativity and power of the character development. The concept of underdog heroes having powers to stop villains appeals to me and perhaps some of this influence is what planted the seed for me to join the US Army in the late 80s.

I recently had the pleasure of reconnecting with some childhood friends from Spotswood to get their perspectives on Stranger Things and specially the influence of D&D.   Luck would have it that I was Facebook friends Peter C. (Spotswood SHS class of 82) and he has been a Dungeon Master for the past eight years and played with the boys on my block in the early 80s. Jack Pot! What fun we had talking about Stranger Things and strolling down memory lane, if not Maiden Lane.

Pete explained that D&D puts you into the adventure and makes you a hero. It sparks your imagination and for him and his friends it made their comic books come alive.

As a Stranger Things fan, Pete felt that “the D&D connection in the show allows the kids to relate to the weird events having around them. They have readied themselves for these battles. D&D has taught them to be heroes and they are putting it use fighting the Demongorgon in the Upside Down. Mind Flayer and Truesight are also out of D&D and are referenced in Season 2.

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The New Yorker magazine recently published an article by Neima Jahromi titled The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons and Dragons” (Oct. 24, 2017) and it summarized well some of the key ideas I had percolating in my mind after binge-watching Stranger Things Season 2.

The themes of escaping and being “off the grid”, connecting with a close and trusted circle of friends and fighting a common enemy are alluring and powerful in any decade.   The creativity that is unleashed by unplugging and sitting face to face around a table for hours is amazing and satisfying for many people. The level of immersion, concentration and focus that results from this type of experience is also something that is lacking our in hyper distracted and multi-tasking world.

This is why! This is the reason why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others.

People long to escape and share their stories and experiences. Role-playing games like D&D bring people together and gives the group sense of camaderie and belonging.

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Like the band of boys from the land of Spotswood, you can enter a magical world that is an exciting place of exploration and discovery where the only limitation is the bounds of your imagination. You can become a long-standing character that can grow in skills and power. You can be a force for good or you can chose to become a monster. No matter what, you will have fun and shared adventures with a trusted circle of friends.

Seeing It

What is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

Sitting in a stark, bare-walled apartment with most of my possessions packed in boxes  Churchstaircasehelped clarify my reality last month.  The lack of distractions (no TV, no pictures, no knick knacks) enabled me to focus on what is important and clearly see the challenge (and the monster puzzle) at hand.

Yes, I’m moving again for the 21st time since I graduated college but this time is different since I did most of the packing on the weekends after going to yoga class. These weekly treks to Yoga Yoga in North Austin were not just any class. They were inspirational and dare I say, life changing. The two instructors, Lisa and Kimberly are amazing examples of strong, grounded woman and they helped me more than they know.

When the dreaded day came and I needed to pack the kitchen, I had an exciting new angle and attitude about it.

If you want to resolve something- you have to look at it… really look at it. These were the wise words I heard from Lisa. I was reminded to see things again for the first time, like a beginner entering a yoga pose.

A camera workshop I recently attended in Bastrop, TX, taught me to step back and look at the big picture and to zoom in closely to see important details.

All of the ideas that had been swirling around in my head came together with a simple, yet brilliant principle- “The Oz Principle” to be exact. This book by Roger Connor, Tom Smith and Craig Hickman was introduced to me at work this year and provided simple yet elegant steps to accountability. Like following the yellow brick road to get to the Emerald City, you put one foot in front of the other on and take the following steps:

  • See It
  • Own It
  • Solve It
  • Do it

It coalesced for me in my barren Austin apartment when I focused (no pun intended) on the See It part. I also took out my camera to document the process so I could share it with you in this blog.

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Before I dove right into fixing and solving my problem at hand, I took a breath and a step back and truly viewed the challenge at hand.  What was I dealing with?

What was my challenge that hot and swampy day in the Austin apartment?

I had the dreaded and monumental task of packing the kitchen for an out of state move. Anyone who has moved before knows the feeling that this undertaking brings up and I’m reaching for my Tums just thinking about it.

As I stood back in the small kitchen space of the apartment, I decided that this time would be different. This time I would solve my problem more efficiently and effectively. This time I would see it before I would solve it. I would solve it before I jumped into action to do it.

For my kitchen-packing project, I also used my Scrum Master training to break down the enormous undertaking into smaller, more digestible chunks.

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For fun and because I’m a Project Manager geek, I documented the steps of my exciting, new packing process and have outlined them below.

Here are the steps for quick and easy kitchen packing:

  1. Empty 1 or 2 shelves or cabinets at time and put everything out on the counter or table.
  2. Look, assess and mentally inventory what you have and how many boxes you’ll need.
  3. Determine what goes together from a packing perspective and physically group them together.
  4. Line up your empty boxes.
  5. Pack grouped items into the same box until it is full.
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 for remaining items on the counter.
  7. Once the table or counter is clear, go back to step 1 and empty out another cabinet or shelf and begin the Look and Inventory process again ( step 2).

It was like solving a big puzzle and I had fun with it.

Seeing it help me in this endeavor because I was able to take a step back and truly assess what I was dealing with before I acted to fix the problem.

Seeing the reality in front of you clearly and honestly without filters is one of the most difficult things to do since we all have our internal biases and frames of reference.

So while you may not be packing soon for a move across the country, you will be faced with some daunting and complex challenges ( I like to call them puzzles) in the coming weeks or months.  Problems are part of life and it sure is nice when we have better tools and techniques for clarifying and resolving them.

The light bulb went off when I realized that this concept of “Putting everything out on the counter” and Seeing It could be applied to many other areas of my life.

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I guess it’s like dealing with the elephant in the room.  You have to 1) acknowledge that you have an elephant ( or a smelly fish) present, 2) truly see the size and nature of the elephant and 3) honestly assess it and see the reality of the situation.

Viewing the puzzle from various angles and sides is also helpful.  The back side of the elephant  gives you a much different perspective that just seeing the trunk or the leg.

 

So what is the reality you most need to acknowledge?

What puzzle/obstacle/opportunity are you ready to see clearly before you jump right in to solving?

Remember the Oz Principle of Seeing It, Owning It, Solving It and Doing It.

For when Dorothy finally arrived at the beautiful Emerald City to see the Wizard, she had to draw back the curtain to see the true situation before she was able to get back home.

 

 

 

Mighty Gumby and the Importance of Flexible Strength 

Ouch! Traveling can be painful. Three weeks of planes, rental cars and unfamiliar beds have wreaked havoc on my back muscles. Plus, I was foolish and did not heed my own advice which is the key point of this article.

Flexibility and Strength are not mutually exclusive and should be worked on in tandem as much as possible. I am thinking of tattooing this reminder on my arm.

Are you one of those naturally flexible people who can do touch your toes without too much trouble? I have always admired this ability since I am not the most limber person in the world. When I was seven years old I struggled more than the other girls at the bar in ballet class. My muscles just didn’t seem as gumby-like as the graceful ballerinas. I was envious and realized that I wouldn’t be joining the circus as an acrobat anytime soon.

After my traumatic dance class experience I longed to be a combination of Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman. The power, adaptability and super hearing abilities were alluring to me. I also longed to possess a “Truth Lasso” for obvious reasons.

Though I wasn’t able to touch to toes as a child, I did have strong leg muscles so I gravitated towards sports like soccer, track and cycling. I started weight lifting in college and ultimately joined the army where the goal was to do as many push-ups I could in a two minutes. Strength trumped flexibility because it was easier. Little did I realize how this one sided focus could cause imbalance, restriction and injury. Why did my lower back always get pulled into a painful knot? Why would my neck become so tight that I couldn’t look up?

Photo by Nancy Martch who is pictured below

Neck strain and back pain are so common in our stressed out and hectic world that Yoga centers are popping up everywhere to help unwind, relax and balance the masses.   This year in Austin I’ve been practicing yoga with a steady frequency and I was feeling great. In retrospect, my vacation plans to visit friends and family for my birthday should have included stretching and breathing exercises to keep me in balance. Oh when will I ever learn?

Many people don’t fully understand and appreciate the importance of balancing flexibility and strength. Here’s a good, simple way to think about it:

  • Increasing flexibility without strength results in joint instability.
  • Increasing strength without flexibility results in soft tissue tears, sprains and postural changes.

Thankfully three strong, lithe friends came into my life over the last 15 years and introduced me the power and healing benefits of the ancient practice. What Heidi started in San Diego in 2002, Nancy and Clarissa continue to inspire me to reach for my toes and beyond.

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Photo by Barry Staver

Elastic power leads to balance and stability, helping us physically and mentally in our personal and professional lives. Being grounded and level headed makes you a confident more assertive speaker and leader.

Here’s some great advice I received in yoga class: Flexibility needs to be supported by strength and stability.

Now I happily compliment my push-ups with the all -important child’s pose. My weight lifting reps are interspersed with the ever helpful downward facing dog.

Over the years I have come to marvel at how much yoga has improved my bicycling skills and strength and how my core strength has made my yoga poses so much more grounded.

Too much of any one good thing can lead to trouble and a wonderful blend of complimentary things can launch us to higher levels of achievement and satisfaction.

 

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Strong and flexible muscles are happy and less prone to injury.

So be like a mighty Gumby- your back and neck muscles will thank you!

 

Soulful Servings 

Getting healthy dose of quality communication with others and can do wonders for your soul. But how often do we get a full and balanced serving of it?

Taking a vacation with a long time friend is fun and rejuvenating, especially when you can connect with the child-like spirit you once possessed.  This year’s getaway was to the west coast of Florida and I was thrilled to have a three day road trip with my dear friend Andrea.

Our time together was just what the doctor ordered and our interaction time was extended, genuine and authentic.  We told stories, shared dreams and lamented the woes of the world.  We were together and connecting without the use of an electronic device, just like we did in the 1980s when we met.

I had full, balanced and delicious meals of communication that left me happy and satisfied. I can’t tell you how much I have missed live expression, eye contact and nuance in my connections with others. All the things we are lacking in our frenzied life of online interaction with what’s called the “Snackification” of communication, I got to enjoy and experience it in the flesh.

Since it is the Lent season, Andrea and I have decided to give up Angst. Relaxing and restoring a sense of balance were our main objectives and I think we have met our goals.

There are many different forms of communication in today’s online world: written (texts, emails, letters), verbal (phone, FaceTime) and social media (posts, blogs and tweets). To me, nothing beats good old fashioned face to face sharing.

As I reflect on these last few days I can’t help but feel blessed and thankful for being able to spend quality time with good friends and family.  This is what a full and balanced life is all about and I was so happy consume and savor my Soulful Serving!