By Jackie White
Hello high school graduates, parents, teachers and distinguished guests. Did you ever notice at these things there are always distinguished guests? The truth is I haven’t been asked to speak at any convocation. Instead, I have elected myself to be your convocation speaker because I have been truly inspired by this class and I think under your leadership this world will bloom in ways it never has before.
Let’s be honest, you have been dealt a tough hand recently and the truth is that it sucks. You probably aren’t supposed to say that in one of these fancy speeches...but you know it’s true.
You have shown us all that guys rock! I mean seriously, no other class in the history of the world has had to weather a pandemic in the final days of their senior year! You have made us proud by taking the high road on this one. Not that you had a choice, but nevertheless, you have done it and you’ve done it with grace and surprising strength.
Social distancing and high school seniors is like suggesting that mixing oil and water together will go well. How could these two things go together? I know it was hard, but you guys (most of your guys) have done it! You have done it for others: You’ve done it for your family, your community and for the country. Wow! That is intelligence and compassion exemplified. Thank you for that! I know it wasn’t easy!
For many of you, your friends are moving away soon and you may not see them again. The constructs of high school life will never be again. It is sad. I’m sad and I am not in your shoes. However, I have respect for you like never before. I see a future generation who will be defined by this pandemic. I mean that in a good way.
The pandemic has brought sadness, but also hope that people will start living life in a better more compassionate way. I see that starting with the Class of 2020. I see your psyches being built right in front of my eyes. You have had to be flexible, accepting and masterful change managers. Most of you have done that in a very positive and creative way! I see innovation in staying connected and dedication to persisting in a quagmire of uncertainty!
I see heart. I see drive. I see persistence. I see awareness and maturity. I see the future to be laced with creativity and leaders who are compassionate, flexible and durable. This is the most hope I have seen for the future in years and I see it in your eyes.
I hope you find it to be wisdom. You have all this greatness going on for you right now. The doors of possibilities are wide open and you are about to walk through them. Here is what I want to tell you. Some of those doors will be labeled with the word Certainty. It might look like a good job that pays well and it will call you to take it. Other doors might say Follow in Your Parent’s Footsteps or Fulfill Your Parent’s Dreams. Another door might be marked Safe and here you will find the choices that don’t push you out of your comfort zone.
Then there might be a door flashing in the distance that is labeled with Follow Your Dreams. It might even feel like it’s calling your name. Sometimes people are afraid to open this door because it might not fit the plan of who you think you are supposed to be. I would assert that behind that door is exactly who you are supposed to be.
I recognize that sometimes a safe good paying job may need to support you through the door that says Follow Your Dreams and that is okay. The message here for you is to never lose sight of those dreams. I have met a lot of people who have let their dreams fall away and I am asking you to not do that. You will find happiness, meaning and purpose in those dreams. They reside in your soul and they are the reason you are here.
If the door to your dreams isn’t apparent, then open the door that says Curiosity. This door is always a great one to walk through because you will be trying out different possibilities offered to you. Keep this door open because as you get older, it tends to start to close. Being curious about the world and trying new things should never fall off your agenda in life.
I am so excited for all of you to open the doors to your possibilities in life. You are the generation who has an exceptional set of skills to navigate all the great challenges and opportunities before you!
Go forward and look for your doors! Make sure to follow your dreams and stay curious! I know I will be looking forward to seeing all you blossom and make your mark in the world!
By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
There are some people you meet and you just know they are doing exactly what they were put on this earth to do. Today’s life story is highlighting one of those people. Shalyn Gagnon is a 5th grade teacher at Altoona Intermediate School in Altoona, Wisconsin. She breathes positivity and possibility everywhere she goes. Grab a notebook and an open mind as we all have the honor of being taught by the best!
Begin at the Beginning - A Path to a Life’s Purpose
Shalyn grew up in Trempealeau, Wisconsin, a small town near La Crosse. She graduated from Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School in 1996. Shalyn married her high school sweetheart Nick, who is also a teacher, and they live in Altoona, Wisconsin with their family. They have three children (Madelyn, Liliana, and Liam) but consider Romina, their exchange student from Germany, their fourth child. Shalyn reports that being a wife and mother is her greatest joy.
When Shalyn was a kid, she thought she would become a lawyer because she liked to argue and have people listen to her; laughing, we agreed she wasn’t too far off by becoming a 5th grade teacher! Her answer to “what she wanted to be when she grew up” changed after two influential teachers entered her life in the 5th and 6th grades, Mr. Lee and Miss K. At the time, she was new to the school. She recalls that it was obvious that these two teachers loved what they did. They made school fun, made connections with their students, and were passionate educators! Ever since that time, she set her sights on teaching and never looked back.
She went to UW-Eau Claire for a Bachelor of Science in Education and, later, went to UW-La Crosse for her Masters of Education in Professional Development (ME-PD.) Her undergraduate major was elementary and middle school with a minor in language arts. She had her heart set on teaching grades 1 through 3. In an unexpected twist, she was placed as a student teacher in 7th grade at Altoona Middle School. She was surprised to find out how much she loved this age group!
She was offered the 8th grade history position at Altoona Middle School while she was doing her student teaching. Much to her surprise, and the surprise of everyone in her life, she accepted the position. You see, history was her least favorite subject while in school! At the time, the principal felt strongly it was better to have the right person that could connect with the kids in the position, and he took a chance on her that she would figure out how to teach history. She worked hard to make teaching, and learning history, fun and really enjoyed it. After a few years, she transferred to a position teaching 8th grade reading and English.
A few years later, the school district decided to make some major changes in structure by developing a 4th and 5th grade Intermediate School. The plan was to have 4th and 5th grade multi-aged classrooms so teachers and kids would be together for 2 years. She chose to transfer to AIS partly because her 8th grade position was being eliminated and partly because she was ready for a new challenge. She had realized that she couldn’t teach the same thing forever and was excited for this new chapter.
She recalls that she has never worked harder than during this time and also never questioned herself more as a teacher. They basically had to build the school from the ground up; creating everything from vision to systems to programs. The blended classroom was a blessing in some ways, particularly having more time to get to know the kids and their needs. However, the huge range of abilities between 4th and 5th grade was a challenge. Two years ago, it was determined that the 4th and 5th grades would need to be separated again, and Shalyn chose to stay with 5th grade. This is the 7th year since AIS was created, and Shalyn is very proud of the amazing team she works with. The staff at AIS are incredible teachers who work tirelessly to provide an excellent education for all students. They are in a really great spot and have been recently nominated as a National Blue Ribbon School, which is a prestigious award given to the top performing schools in the country.
A Teacher’s Take on Teaching
This will come as no surprise, especially all of you unexpectedly serving as the homeschool teacher, but teaching is definitely hard work. Teaching is exhausting during the school day and beyond. You never really walk away or take a break. However, teaching gives Shalyn energy, fills her soul, and she simply loves it. During the time of Act 10 when there was a lot of uncertainty in regard to the teaching profession, she did some soul-searching wondering if there was anything else she could or would like to do. The answer was simple; there was absolutely nothing else she can imagine doing other than teaching! If that isn’t the description of what it feels like to be living your passion and purpose, I don’t know what is, DreamChasers!
All things, no matter how perfectly designed they are for your life, have challenges or parts that you may not like so much. There have certainly been challenges along the way...some within her classroom walls like students who are broken requiring more patience and support than she can provide alone or struggling to meet the needs of all learners in her classroom. Some challenges extend beyond the walls of her classroom. Kids struggle, and during her first several years as a teacher, this reality would start to bring her down. She began to realize that she could choose to be negative, complain, and give up but that wouldn’t get her anywhere. Rather, she started to look for the good in situations, and this way of thinking has become a big part of her life. She decided she would do her very best to help her students, but that she alone could not do it all. She now understands that all these situations, good and bad, make us stronger.
School is Always In Session - Learning How to Live Her Best Life
Like most of us, finding balance is difficult. Shalyn reports that her husband reigns her in; he helps to ground her and provides her with gentle reminders that she simply can’t do it all. Shalyn encourages others to realize that we have to rely on others; we simply can’t do everything ourselves. Her principal is a huge advocate of her teachers taking care of themselves and their families first so that they have the energy to devote to their students.
Several years ago Shalyn read a book that literally changed her life, The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst. A very good friend of hers watched her frantically trying to meet the needs of everyone and living her life in fear of saying no. Shalyn reports that she was a pleaser and didn’t want to turn down any call for help or any social engagement. Now, she only says yes to things that give her purpose, things that fill her up, things that give her worth, and things that she enjoys. In line with this, she continuously checks in with how she is and where her time is going; are there things that can be let go?
She has also realized the importance of taking care of herself first, which is something new to her in the last few years. She gets up early in the morning and goes for a run or walk. She practices mindfulness. She surrounds herself with the most amazing women; people that lift her up and make her better. She says she has the best friends anyone could ever hope for! They focus on being positive, they laugh, they serve others; they are simply incredible, strong, successful women who are genuine. There is an old proverb that reads: “Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Shalyn says her friends encourage her to be her best self.
Although the Covid 19 pandemic has created a lot of stress, chaos, and sadness, Shalyn has found some amazing positive changes in her life. She has been given the gift of time with the people who matter most to her...her family. Shalyn admits that they are the ones who often get the worn out and tired Shalyn, whatever is leftover after she pours her heart into her students. She empathizes that there are people grieving normalcy and missing traditional milestone celebrations such as graduations, proms, and weddings. However, she is choosing to look at this as a welcome change, an opportunity to adjust our priorities, reconsider what we need, and create new traditions. This is a time to take care of others and look for the good happening all around us.
The State of Teaching Address We All Need to Hear
First and foremost, Shalyn encourages all of us to look for the good and choose kindness. In relation to teaching and the pandemic, giving up has never been an option for her. Instead, she has kept her thoughts around how to stay the course. This has allowed her and her colleagues to become more creative. And, some of these ideas might help serve their students in the future when regular schools can reconvene. She recognizes that the responses and attitudes are varied greatly across the state, and nation, depending on the district and community. Fortunately, the School District of Altoona is extremely positive and supportive of finishing strong. She encourages her colleagues to surround themselves and seek out the positive to keep their morale up. She encourages all of us to keep in mind that the kids are watching; in her case, her audience is both her own children and her students. She knows that if she stays positive and has an uplifted spirit, they will as well; and, if she gives up, so will they. We are all in this together, and we will persevere.
Shalyn is a fixer by nature; when she sees a problem or challenge, she wants to jump right in and fix it. What she has learned is that she can’t fix everything. However, she can be a bright light during a dark time in someone’s life, helping others and supporting them through tough times. She also used to be a worrier; she worried about EVERYTHING. So much of her energy throughout her years in college and even during her first several years teaching was spent on worrying. She worried about things that were out of her control and didn’t have the mindset to change her thinking. She called her mom every day, sometimes twice a day, because she was so worried about little things and things that she didn’t have control over. Grades, car problems, money troubles, not pleasing people...the list went on and on. She is incredibly grateful for her mom’s gentle guidance and continued support during those difficult years. Then, she became a parent and that's when worrying was no longer her focus. Instead, she chose to look for solutions or ways she could make situations better. Looking for happiness, goodness, and positivity brought light into her life. She realized that she couldn’t control most of the things she worried about, but she could control how she dealt with it. That’s exactly the mindset that we all need to adopt every day but especially right now!
Shalyn has so much wisdom and insight to pass along not only to her 5th graders but to all of us. Here are some final thoughts and favorite quotes that you might just want to make part of your life:
Shalyn wants all of us to participate in this life and stop being an observer. As Shalyn says, “I used to watch my kids play, standing safely on the sidelines...now, I jump in. I get on that trampoline, I walk the slack line, I jump off the rocks, I play...I am always up for the next adventure.” She made the decision to stop letting opportunities pass her by and to live her life with no regrets. Awesome advice from an inspiring soul!
Thanks, Shalyn, for sharing yourself with the SoulShine DreamChaser community. Keep on touching lives and influencing others through your example. Shine on!
By Jackie White
We are all anxious and waiting. Remembering what it used to be like. Even the monotonous and dull of a life gone by seems appealing right now. Remember being in a hurry but got caught sitting in traffic...such sweet memories. Remember running the kids around to practice? That was such a hassle...and now we miss that! We never thought we would ever utter such words! Remember the crossing guard who we didn’t even know, who waved to us everyday? Hmmm, If I can speak on your behalf, I think we miss her and so much more..those were the good times!
One thing I'm sure of is when we can, I’ll see you then. When the good times come again.
Remember getting a book at the library? That seems like such a luxury now. Speaking of luxuries, what about going into the office? Remember that annoying coworker you are missing right about now? And hey, the kids...oh my gosh, remember 8-3PM AT school? Peace and quiet for a few hours? Wow, we have almost forgotten what that sounded like.Remember visiting your mom, wow, we really miss her and so much more...those were the good times!
One thing I'm sure of is when we can, I’ll see you then. When the good times come again.
We close our eyes and in anticipation try to conjure up what the world will look like. How will we move in the world? Will we gather? Will we visit family and friends unbridled? We miss them. Remember having a beer and watching the game or spending the afternoon lunching and shopping? What about that random person in the restaurant who had that contagious laugh. We didn’t even know what she was laughing out, but her laugh made us laugh. Heck, we didn’t even know her, but miss her and so much more. Those were the good times!
One thing I'm sure of is when we can, I’ll see you then. When the good times come again.
We try to imagine what the future will bring. Will it be unrecognizable or will we find comfort in old routines? Think of the day we will be able to come together again. Standing next to someone at the grocery or enjoying a coffee in a cafe. Those times seem like Heaven right about now. Hugging an old friend will be like receiving a gift! Honestly, it probably should have felt that way anyhow. We look forward to seeing them and so much more. Those will be the good times!
One thing I'm sure of is when we can, I’ll see you then. When the good times come again.
imes have been rough, but we will make through. We will emerge stronger than we ever thought we could be. We will know what is really important in life. We will take each day in with gratitude in greater magnitude than we could have ever imagined. We will appreciate and look forward to seeing loved ones again and toasting to the future. Those will be the good times!
One thing I’m sure of is when we can, I’ll see you then. When the good times come again.
And they will come soon. Until then appreciate today’s good times and Shine On!
To My Daughter - These are the Important Things in Life That I Wish For You From the Bottom of My Heart
By Jackie White
When I began to write this blog, I was going to write about life skills high school seniors need to survive in college, but when I think about what I really want for my daughter to leave home with, it is far beyond skills to survive. Not that cooking and budgeting are not important, but what I want is something much deeper. I want her to live her life to the fullest with meaning and joy.
I know when she was born, I scribbled a bunch of skills, qualities and attributes on a slip of paper that I wanted all my children to possess. The condensed version of that list is in my prayers every night that she and her brothers are healthy, safe, happy, strong and feel loved.
Further than that, I see a long list of things I want her to live out in her life, and that’s what I am going to share with you today. I think most of us have these desires for our children and whether you have one leaving the nest as I do or are just starting out, it’s important to think through what exactly is going to give your child the best possible experience in life. Your list may vary from mine, but either way, I challenge you to think about this question and start teaching your kids now how to navigate life with the ultimate goal to be able to have the foundation to live a life of meaning.
To My Daughter,
I want you to feel confident in yourself. Know that you are strong enough to handle tough things in life.
I want you to ask for help if life feels like it’s too much. You never need to go it alone.
I want you to believe that life can be all that you dream of and even more!
I want you to face your fears. Know that those fears are trying to block you from your happiness and that you won’t stand for that.
I want you to be kind to others. I want you to have empathy and consideration of others feelings, needs and place in life.
I want you to never forget that helping others not only helps them but will come back with a huge return by filling your heart to the brim.
I want you to know you are inherently good. I want you to feel that from the core of your existence.
I want you to have a relationship with God, and, when times are good or times are tough, know that you can rely on your faith in Him to pull you through.
I want you to not be entitled. Life doesn’t owe you anything, except for giving you the ability to make choices that will shape your life.
I want you to choose wisely.
I want you to be practical and live within your means sprinkled with a few special gifts once and awhile. I want those gifts to be precious and meaningful.
I want you to know the value in waiting for things. Life is not about instant gratification. The good stuff is always worth waiting for.
I want you to know the importance of good friends. They can lift you up when you are down and can bring laughter, support, connection and companionship.
I want you to not let life pass you by. That means don’t miss opportunities because you don’t want to step out of your comfort zone.
I want you to know that life outside the comfort zone is where the real living begins.
I want you to live a life of extraordinary. Choose to elevate above mediocrity in all that you do. When you go the extra mile and choose to be exceptional, life will be too.
I want you to live safely, but not risk free. The balance can be difficult, but when struck, it will allow for living a life of breadth and care.
I want you to know that life isn’t always easy. Know that during these times you will grow stronger and braver.
I want you to never forget to be grateful. Being in gratitude will be your ticket to happiness.
I want you to laugh and live a life of joy. Know that life was meant to be fully enjoyed!
I want you to love. Surround yourself with people and things you love. Life will be most fulfilling when love is in abundance.
I want you to follow your rainbow. Follow your dreams in life because that is where meaning can be found.
I want this and so much more for you. Never forget that you are special and loved beyond measure.
I hope this list of life skills may have stimulated some ideas in your mind of what you want for your children. It’s an amazing gift to have children and providing them the love that they need and the foundation to live a life of meaning and happiness is probably the best gift you can give them.
By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
Steve Hartman from CBS Sunday Morning had a hilarious interview with his children on this past Mother’s Day. The segment started out talking about the trophy you can buy for your mom that says “World’s Best Mom”. Ironically, the statue is that of a man, but I think it is supposed to resemble the Academy Award trophy. He interviewed several children, including his own, about why their mom should win the trophy. As you might expect, many of the answers were things like “she loves me” and “she takes care of me”. Here’s where the hilarious answer came in.
As Hartman was discussing these answers with his own children, you can see the lightbulb go on in his 10 year old’s mind. Hartman’s older son had just said something to the effect that everyone thinks their mom is the best when his 10 year old came out with this realization, “maybe I just have adapted to my mom and so I think she’s the best.” Kudos to Hartman for not busting out laughing at that one! Hartman proceeded to say what a special Mother’s Day greeting that would make, “Thanks, Mom! I’ve adapted to think you’re the best!” If only everyone could speak with the raw, unfiltered honesty of children!
As Mother’s Day was just celebrated, my own awesome and deserving of the “World’s Best Mom” Award, Colleen, remains top of mind. My mom is my example of how to be a mom to my own kids, and she is one of my best friends (and, no, it was not always that way). I have learned, and continue to learn, many lessons from my mom and thought it would be fun to share some of them with all of you!
Here’s my Top 10 Life Lessons from My Mom (that you might want to adapt to your life):
10. Be a Good Host
My mom knows how to throw a party, and she leads by example on how to be a good host. The secret is very simple - make everyone feel welcome. Greet everyone, take their coat. Point them to the snacks, beverages, and bathroom if they are new. Then, in a laughing voice, invite them to make themselves at home because you aren’t waiting on them. Then, get your mingle on. My mom would probably say making sure you only invite people you like is also helpful. Point being, if you opened your home to them and thought they were worth inviting, treat them as such.
9. Creating moments worth remembering takes effort
My mom always knows how to make moments worth remembering. Sometimes this is the perfect, thoughtful birthday or Christmas gift; other times this is making your favorite dinner just because. Putting in a little extra effort to make a moment special is one way to show your love to someone else.
8. Show up as the biggest cheerleader
My mom is one of the best cheerleaders, and she still is for my kids and their events. She rarely missed a tennis match, soccer game, show choir competition, band performance, dance recital...and, the list goes on as I loved to do all the things. Not only was she there, she was all in with the photo buttons and appropriate sports paraphernalia on. While I may have feigned embarrassment, I loved every second of it. If you are going to support someone, be present and go all out!
7. Fair isn’t always equal
I said my mom (and dad, too, can’t forget the other half of the duo) rarely missed my plethora of events. Some were missed because my brother had a conflict, and, being younger, his options of getting to said events were more limited at times. There were other times that I thought my younger brother got this or that easier than myself. My mom didn’t go down the rabbit hole of explaining perspective to a whiney pre-teen or teenager; she would sternly say, “fair isn’t always equal”, possibly followed by “I would get it when I was older”. Guess what? Now that I am a parent myself, I 100% get this. No child is the same so the best you can do is try to be fair. Sorry for all the sass, Mom.
6. Do your best
Early on, I put crazy pressure on myself to be “perfect”. It was my mom that helped me start correcting this faulty mindset. She would simply remind me that all you can do is put in the work and do your best. If it doesn’t work out, learn and try again. She knew I was capable of great success and reminded me that I was the one putting pressure on myself.
5. Loyalty is important
My mom is one of the most loyal people I have ever met. She will move mountains for the people she loves. While loyalty is a high priority, you should also be cautious on where your loyalties lie, not everyone or every relationship is created the same. While you can still be friends, match your effort and emotional investment in a relationship with the other person.
4. Be a parent, not a friend
This was particularly prominent during my teen years. I remember being “so mad” that my mom wouldn’t let me do something that someone else was allowed. My mom was no nonsense when it came to this; she was my mother, not my friend. What I didn’t realize then that I do now was she was looking out for me when my underdeveloped brain wasn’t. She took my harsh words and made the unpopular decision. And, later, after my brain was finished developing and I was a grown up, then we could be friends. Sorry for being a jerk, Mom; don’t worry, Liam and Lucy will pay me back in spades.
3. Actions speak louder than words
We have all heard this one. This is all about follow through, and one that my mom demonstrates. If you say you are going to do something, do it. If you make a commitment, keep it. Hold up your end of the bargain. Going hand in hand with this lesson, be mindful of where you are spending your time; it’s easier to follow through when your commitments are in alignment with your priorities.
2. Say what you mean
People are not mind readers. You need to tell people what is on your mind and ask for what you need. Through example, my mom made me realize being a direct communicator is one of my unique strengths.
1. Always be true to yourself and stand up for what you believe
Each of us has unique gifts and talents that the world needs. Never apologize for letting your light shine. My mom warned me that the process would make others uncomfortable, and I would find myself at crossroads; one path would suppress my light in favor of being well-liked, one would let my light shine but might be at the cost of being on the end of criticism. It would be my choice which path to choose. If you choose your path from a place that is aligned with your values, you can’t choose wrong. And, always stand up for what you believe, even if it’s unpopular.
Now that I am a mom myself, it has happened. I open my mouth and the words of Colleen come right out; even the ones I said I would NEVER say like “fair isn’t equal” or “because I said so”. All the pieces fall into place and come full circle when you start experiencing motherhood yourself; I now understand my mom in a deeper way than ever before. I am so grateful to have the mom I have, especially when I know several of my close friends would give anything to have one more Mother’s Day with their moms that have passed.
Thanks, Mom, for all that you have done and continue to do for all of us. You are a hard act to follow but I will do my best to continue to adapt these lessons into my children’s lives as you did to me.
By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
In the face of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, it is safe to say that the appreciation for the entire medical and scientific community has never been higher. There is one profession among this community that defines the entire health care experience, and that is the nurse. Being a nurse myself, I might be a little biased, but hear me out. All of us have had a health care experience of one kind or the other, whether it was a routine check up at a clinic or sitting at the bedside in a hospital. Go back to that time, and think about this question: who made the difference in your experience?
While all the cogs in the medical wheel are crucial to a patient’s outcome from the janitor to the physician and everyone in between, I’m willing to bet that it was your interaction with the nursing team that defined your experience. It’s the nurse that stays at the bedside keeping a watchful eye on changes in the patient’s medical condition and intervening appropriately. The nurse that does the small things to make you feel seen, from back rubs to ice chips to realizing you are celebrating a life milestone in the hospital like a birthday or anniversary by making a “mocktail” of cranberry juice and 7UP. It’s the nurses that know your stories and have met your families. It’s the nurses that pick up the pieces after bad news has been delivered and celebrate the loudest for your victories. The list goes on and on. Nurses are more than the face of health care; they are the lifeblood, the very soul, of health care.
While a Google search will tout the reasons to go into the nursing profession with answers like job security, flexible schedule, and competitive salary, ask any nurse why they chose to go into nursing and I sincerely doubt that is what their answer will be. Their answer often will stem around a personal experience they had with a nurse during their own or someone they love’s health care experience. And, that is exactly what made me want to join their ranks.
You see, I never intended to become a nurse. Oh, no, no, no. I was going to be a doctor. No offense to my physician colleagues, but what does a kindergartener know when they pick what they want to be when they grow up? Seriously, I really liked my doctor when I answered the question at age 6, and it stuck after that. It was my go-to answer. So much so that I never really questioned it; it just became what I was going to do.
As the universe tends to do if we pay attention, a series of life events happened during my sophomore year in college that altered my trajectory. It started at the beginning of summer break when my dad’s best friend, Bob, had a heart attack. He was resuscitated and transported to the hospital. My dad and I went to visit three days after Bob's cardiac arrest. While we were there, the medical team came in. I went to the waiting room with Bob's young nephew so everyone present could talk without the rambunctious interjections of a toddler. What seemed like an eternity later, my dad came to find me and tell me the news; Bob's scans showed irreversible brain injury and would be taken off life support later that day.
The rest of the visit was very hazy. I recall that the room had a peaceful quality, despite the devastating news. A chaplain came by to speak to Leah and the girls to offer support as well as make plans to deliver last rights later in the day. A tray appeared with sandwiches and juice. Tissues were always within reach. Needs were met as if by magic. While I hope no one has to go through this series of events, it was more peaceful and calm than I could have imagined.
Fast forward to the end of the summer, my father was fortunately diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease and scheduled for emergency, life-saving cardiac surgery. (I always need to say a thank you to Bob for saving my dad’s life on this one.) I remember going from my first day of classes sophomore year to the hospital to sit with my mom and little brother while my dad was in surgery. The surgeon met with my mom, brother, and I to tell us that my dad’s surgery was over and went well. A short time later, my dad’s nurse brought us into the ICU and started guiding all of us through what to expect in the upcoming hours and days. While it was scary seeing my dad hooked up to the same machines Bob had been on a few months earlier, the mood was different. I had all the confidence that he was going to be okay; it was hard not to when the nurse kept telling us how great he was doing. I never doubted her, and she was right.
Maybe it was the stress and shock of these two experiences, or maybe it was because I was a naive nineteen year old, but I didn’t fully appreciate or understand the value of the nurses until my final close encounter with health care starting in October that same dreadful sophomore year. My uncle became critically ill due to complications from alcoholism. Over the next nearly four months, he was hospitalized. The details are an entire story on itself and for, possibly, another time. It was during this extensive hospitalization that I fully understood and saw the nurses.
It was like one of those lightbulb-turned-on-ah-ha moments! As I sat at my uncle’s bedside doing homework so my mom or aunt could take a needed break, I saw them - the nurses. I saw them coordinate all the care teams. I saw them administer medications and write down vitals. I saw them appear when alarms were sounding as well as when they knew alarms were coming. I saw them reposition, give back rubs, rub lotion on dry skin, swab parched mouths, wipe up bodily fluids - doing the things patients need when they can’t do it themselves with grace, kindness, and empathy. I saw them not only tend to my uncle but also to the needs of the family. I saw a million small things that resulted in a huge difference. I realized that the unseen angel that brought peace when Bob’s end of life came and brought confidence and reassurance during my dad’s surgical recovery came in the form of the nurses.
That’s when my heart became decided, and I answered the Universe’s call. I stepped into one of my purposes, changed majors one more time (okay, the fourth time but who’s counting?), and applied for nursing school. I did not really know what I was getting into; because, let’s be real, being a nurse is hard on all levels - physically, mentally, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally. I just knew that it felt right; it felt like the way to make a difference. It felt like a way to pay it forward; to take the experience I had at some of the scariest, saddest, most emotionally charged times of my life and guide someone else through them, show them the way.
It’s challenging to sum up what it’s like to be a nurse; it’s one of those professions that embeds itself into who you are and is not just what you do. The journey to becoming a nurse is a life-changing rollercoaster - experiencing the darkest, most vulnerable moments one minute and soaring high on the sweetest victory the next, literally within the span of one eight-hour shift. I am forever grateful that I took that unexpected turn on my journey; just as certain as I am that I was made to be a nurse, I am also certain that being a nurse molded me to who I am today.
It is with sincere gratitude that Jackie and I express our heartfelt thanks to all the medical professionals making a difference in the lives of their patients today, and every day.
By Jackie White
On the occasion of Mother’s Day, I spent some time thinking about moms and the lessons they impart to their children. Everyone’s mother teaches them lessons and those learnings are a part of who we are today. We can learn these great lessons through sharing our stories with others. Today, I want to share with you some of the lessons I have learned from my mom, Theresa Hare.
First of all, let me say that I was lucky when they handed out moms because I had a mom who had a great combination of being tough yet loving, funny and took her job as a mom seriously. I always knew my place in her heart and that is a great foundation for a kid.
Lesson #1: Hard Work Pays Off: My mother was the daughter of an Sicilian Immigrant father who decided to board a ship at age 16 and make a better life for himself in America. He was brave and a pioneer of sorts. He made America his home and worked hard to provide for his family setting the example that hard work pays off. Her father ran several businesses including a bait shop and tavern. Unfortunately, the Prohibition went into effect, but Teresa’s father did what he could to survive. He moved his business to an underground speakeasy where he was smart enough to sell his alcohol to the policemen who weren’t going to arrest him for illegal sales. It was then, Teresa, even as a child, was put to work by being a runner for the grain alcohol to make the moonshine sold in the tavern. Because she learned early that hard work was expected and that it pays off, I did too.
Lesson #2: Keep Persistent (and a Little Stubborn):
Along with her tough father, Teresa’s mother was a second generation Irish. Some say that the Italian and Irish combination can result in a stubborn headstrong individual. I would not argue with that presumption. My mother did what she set out to do. She was stubborn and persistent, which were qualities I learned to revere as part of my heritage.
Lesson #3: Be an Entrepreneur: My mother, Teresa was raised in the Greenbush Italian neighborhood of Madison Wisconsin.There she attended Catholic school and endured the tough teachings of the nuns. Knuckle whacking and tacking her dress to the chair to keep her seated were some of the accepted practices. The nuns even decided her name was spelled incorrectly and changed it from Teresa to Theresa. My mom wasn’t too rattled by it all. She was tough and had an entrepreneur spark even as a kid in elementary school. Her friend Luigi once told me that she kept a stash of pencils in her desk and if anyone needed a pencil she would sell one to them for a nickel! She was always prepared when opportunity knocked. I took note.
Lesson #4: Ask for What You Want: After Catholic school Theresa (with an “H”) went on to West High School, but most of her friends went to Central High School. She wanted to change schools to be with her friends, so she walked to the superintendent’s office by herself and asked if she could make the change. Maybe it was her gumption or her smooth talking personality, but she was granted the request and she graduated from Central High in 1946. She was never one to sit on the sidelines and I learned quickly that I shouldn’t either.
Lesson #5: Know Your Worth (Don’t Take Any Crap From Anyone): Upon graduation, Theresa worked in her father’s bar, now legitimate and located above ground. She worked there with her father and older brother. One memorable story was the day her brother raised his hand to hit her at the bar one day. Her father saw what happened and right then and there told his son he was no longer welcome at the bar. My mom learned that day that her worth was just as important as anyone else’s and that abusive behavior should never be tolerated. This was such an amazing lesson for my mom because in her day, many women were routinely abused. She was the one who stood up for others and in doing so, she taught me that I too will stand up for myself and others.
Lesson #6: Accept Others: She ran the bar for many years with her father, eventually taking it over herself. She met her future husband there, my dad and was brave enough to marry him even though he was a divorced man. For a Catholic woman to marry a divorced man meant she would be excommunicated from the church. She lost her church, but her family approved of Jack. He was, as my grandfather, said “a good used model!” Beyond marrying someone who was “damaged goods” my mom accepted all kinds. She ran a bar and employed people of all walks of life, color and disability. She cared for her customers no matter who they were. I always thank her for that because my collection of friends are varied, diverse and quirky as hell and I love it!
Lesson #7: Show Love in All You Do: My mom wasn’t one of those huggy/kissy moms, but she showed her love in all that she did. She was always there, even though she worked full time. She made it to every play, concert, game or school event. She was the homeroom mom and the Brownie Leader. I think just eating her cooking tasted like love! And even when I was an adult, she’d call everyday and check on me. There was no doubt my mom loved me and if I am doing my job properly, my kids will know how much I love them through words and through my actions.
Lesson #8: Be a Leader: My mom didn’t wait around for things to happen. She made them happen. She took charge and didn’t waiver in her confidence. I always regarded that take-charge kind of attitude as important. What a great lesson for a daughter to see displayed in her mother!
Lesson #9 Be Independent: My mom ran her businesses. Yes, after she married my dad, he signed on, but it was Mom that was the heart and soul of those businesses. She knew how to do everything from soup to nuts! In addition to that she ran her household, kids calendars and social activities. She was a one woman army! She didn’t run over anyone else including her husband, but she was never in a position of being completely reliant on anybody. I saw that she was tough and independent, and that people noticed that about her. I thought I wanted to be just like her.
Lesson #10: Have Fun: If you were fortunate enough to have met my mom, you’d know that having fun in life was important! She hosted parties most week-ends and truly enjoyed the company of others. The lesson here extended to making the most out of the life you have been given and enjoy the process. Even in the end, when my mom was dying, she was still cracking jokes. To me it was such a profound demonstration to show me that everything is ok and we are still going to laugh and smile, right down to the last breath and she did.
My mom taught me these and so many more lessons. On this Mother’s Day take a moment to think about what lessons your mother taught you. And if you are a mom yourself, then consider the lessons you are teaching your kids either intentionally or not. They watch all that you do as you did with your mom.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms here and in Heaven.
By Jackie White
The recent Coronavirus pandemic has put the world on notice. It has taken much of our liberties away for the time being. We are at times living with high anxiety and other times maybe just a low level alert. We have had to really change the way we have been living our lives. Because many of the new ways of living life have been very similar to how food allergic families already live, this pandemic has presented an opportunity for the food allergic community to illustrate to those not affected by food allergies what it takes to keep a food allergic person safe.
Where is it?
Food allergy families live in a world where miniscule protein bits haunt them. It can take as little as a pin head of an allergen protein to cause a reaction, so they are always guarding against exposure. (Sound familiar?) Unseen food allergens and viruses can be equally insidious and dangerous.
The image that many food allergic families share is to imagine there is rat poison sprinkled randomly everywhere and you don’t know if what you touch will accidentally get into your body and create a horrible reaction. That graphically explains how scary the world can be for a person who has food allergies.
This can be a similar feeling for those who may fall into an at-risk group during this coronavirus outbreak. Questions for the at-risk group and the food allergic person are the same Where is it? Is it on something I am touching? Is it going to make me sick? And they run on a constant loop in their heads.
Rigid Routines and Heightened Awareness
The coronavirus has many of us following a much more rigid routine than we have ever before. We are wearing masks and gloves in public. We are limiting time out of our homes. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging those not in our safe bubble. Food allergic people too, live tightly to their routines. Checking ingredients on packages every time they eat something is mandatory. Being aware of allergens in their space or assessing for possible cross contamination. There is no other choice for the food allergic person than to always be on guard.
Hand Washing and No Face Touching
Food allergy families have always known the importance of through hand washing with soap. It is the only way to remove food proteins from hands. Hand sanitizer works well against germs, but not removing surface proteins. People with food allergies learn to limit touching their face because they can easily transfer an allergen from a surface to their mouth and cause a reaction. These days during the coronavirus outbreak, the general population is re-learning the importance of handwashing and how to do it properly. They have also been instructed to not touch their face to reduce the chance of germ transmission.
We are all quarantining to avoid catching the coronavirus and spreading the virus. For parents of food allergic kids, quarantining their food allergic kid to avoid any accidental exposure is not reasonable, but likely has crossed their minds. Some kids are homeschooled to reduce exposure especially at young ages. It is a scary proposition to let your FA child roam the world that is filled with things that can cause a potentially fatal reaction in their child.
Today many of us are feeling anxiety because the unknown of the pandemic is scary and uncertain. 57% of kids with food allergies and 75% of their parents experience anxiety regularly. Adding the threat of coronavirus to having a food allergic child can amplify the anxiety. Questions like what if my child has a reaction and has to go into the emergency room? And if they do, will they be exposed to the virus? Many of the food allergic kids also have asthma, which places them in a high-risk category, which takes the anxiety up yet another notch. It’s scary!
No Cure or Prevention
There is no cure or prevention for food allergies, so avoiding the offending allergen is absolutely necessary to keep safe. At this point there is not a cure or prevention for coronavirus and so we have to avoid contact surfaces and people who may be carrying it. Thankfully, we are going to great lengths to control and eradicate it from our country. Food allergy research is making some headway and therapies like oral immunotherapy have assisted in managing the condition to some degree.
Soon, all of this lockdown for coronavirus will be in the past and people will return their lives. For food allergic families, the vigilance stays in place. The constant monitoring and anxiety will continue. A level of ok-ness will settle in, but until there is a cure, these families will be on high-alert.
Hopefully, after reading this, you will understand why living with food allergies is difficult and stressful. If you can, please extend some support and thoughtfulness when a food allergic child is in your kid’s class or is a neighbor or teammate. For more information on food allergies go to FARE’s website foodallergy.org
One important note for food allergic families: Due to the coronavirus, the food allergy emergency plan protocols have changed. Go to foodallergy.org for more information and follow up with your allergist on the proper protocol to follow in the event of an emergency during these times.
Thanks from a food allergy mom!
Stay safe and Shine On!
By Erika Fehrenbach Prell
Do you realize what tomorrow is? It is not only Cinco de Mayo but also, wait for it, Taco Tuesday! Wha?!? Seriously, people, Cinco de Mayo and Taco Tuesday have intersected on the same day; there must be some crazy universal alignment or something. Actually, I checked into that; nope, just regular star and planet alignment, no retrograde or comets or meteor storm. Turns out, this just happens sometimes.
Anyway, it’s epic, friends, epic. Time to interrupt this quarantine pandemic pandemonium for something that is very much needed. Fun with a capital F-U-N!!
Every holiday has a history. And, perhaps other than St. Patrick’s Day, there is no other holiday with more confusion around it than Cinco de Mayo. So, let’s clear up the misconceptions so we know what we are celebrating. Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day; that, in fact, is on September 16. Cinco de Mayo commemorates the unlikely victory of the Mexican army over Napoleon III at the Battle of Puebla that happened on May 5, 1862. The first Cinco de Mayo celebration happened in 1863 in Southern California in support of Mexico against French rule. This means, friends, that Cinco de Mayo is in fact an American holiday, not a Mexican holiday. Starting in the 1930s, Cinco de Mayo evolved into an opportunity to celebrate Mexican identity, promote ethnic consciousness, and build community solidarity. And, well, now, it’s mainly an excuse to enjoy Mexican food and margaritas. Hence, the amazing overlap of Cinco de Mayo and Taco Tuesday!
Now that you are prepared for the History of Random Holidays category should you ever find yourself on Jeopardy, bring on the F-U-N!
The first ingredient in our Epic Cinco de Mayo Taco Tuesday Extravaganza is blending the perfect margarita. Cue Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” on your Echo Dot, pull out your blender and cocktail shaker (yes, both. You need to do some serious scientific testing coming up), and start the dissection into the Anatomy of the Perfect Margarita!
The 3 ingredient foundation
Margarita recipes are plentiful. And, the opinions and preferences are as wide ranging as the recipes. Regardless, there are 3 ingredients that make up the foundation of the Perfect Margarita - tequila, orange liqueur, and lime juice. Everything else is just frills!
Let’s be real; the quality of your margarita starts with the quality of your tequila. (And, the quality of your hangover may also start here. Just keeping it real!) Don’t settle, friends, on this epic holiday; go for at least a mid-priced, 100% blue agave tequila (look for the words “100% puro de agave” on the label). Blanco is the most common but you may also use reposado or anejo, especially if you prefer a smoother and mellower flavor.
Sweeten it up
Orange liqueur is the traditional second piece of the Perfect Margarita foundation. Triple Sec is the most common selection but you can also use Grand Marnier or Cointreau, depending on preference.
Sour is the Power
The third ingredient in the foundation is lime juice. And, for the Perfect Margarita, there is no substitute that comes close to freshly squeezed limes. Yes, this is more work; however, it will definitely be worth it. If this is more than you can handle, be particular on the mix that you select. I'll be honest; I've never taken the time to do fresh lime. But, hey, my schedule freed up for this Tuesday!
Shaken and on the rocks? Or, blended? Ahh...the final decision for the end product! This is 100% personal preference and won’t inherently affect the flavor.
Jazz it up
Here’s where you can let your creativity flow. Leave your Perfect Margarita as is or doctor it up. You can explore other fruits or vegetables to alter the flavor like strawberry, raspberry, peach, lemon, cucumber or mint. Top it with a garnish like a lime wedge or curl of orange. Or, rim your glass with sugar or salt. The possibilities are endless!
In case you need help justifying margaritas on a Tuesday, we got you! Margaritas are totally healthy. They are loaded with vitamin C and are gluten free. Tequila is a digestif, which is when an alcohol helps speed up digestion by cutting through the fat of a rich meal. (I mean, that’s assuming you eat with your tequila). Cinco de Mayo is a holiday, and margaritas are part of the tradition. Plus, nothing brings out the fun or ability to forget current events like tequila, which might be exactly what we need for an evening. You're welcome.
And, do not forget, it’s Cinco de Mayo on TACO TUESDAY! I mean, what?!? (Alright, I may have been sampling the foundation during the writing of the Anatomy of the Perfect Margarita section.)
Obviously, the final piece of this extravaganza are the tacos! (Plus, you need something to balance out the tequila.) Your favorite taco may be different from mine. I use the good old crock pot and keep it simple; 4-6 chicken breasts topped with salsa, ½ cup of water, and taco or fajita seasoning on low for 6-8 hours. Once it’s time to eat, shred the chicken. I make a side of brown rice; and, in honor of this fancy holiday, I may even mix in cilantro and freshly squeezed lime (but only if there is any left after making the Perfect Margarita. Priorities.). In our house, we do toppings buffet style with lettuce, tomato, black olive, sour cream, taco or hot sauce, salsa, cheese, and black beans with the perplexing choice of tortilla chips or soft shell tortillas. I might even go crazy and have both. Good thing for the digestive properties in my accompanying margarita!
Top off your Cinco de Mayo Taco Tuesday extravaganza with your favorite lively music and, perhaps, even a little dancing. Salsa, anyone? Just take a night to have some well-deserved fun! Off to the store to replenish my limes!
Erika Fehrenbach Prell is passionate about inspiring and educating, others on their path to complete wellness-mind,body, and soul. This desire led Erika to the helping profession of nursing, and she obtained her Master's Degree as a Nurse Practitioner in 2007. Erika specialized in cardiac surgery, largely influenced by her personal experience with heart disease. While she loved working with this population, her heart's desire has always been to impact lives on a larger scale and from a proactive, not reactive, place. The universe answered when her path crossed with Jackie and SoulShine was born. Erika finally feels she is walking in her purpose and is excited for this journey to unfold.