How to Record & Understand a Year of Gratitude

I kept talking about practicing gratitude-being grateful. Seeing the silver lining. Slowing down. Counting my blessings. Cherishing the moment. Being content with what I have. Embracing what shows up in my life.

Then, I did.

In 2018 I committed to recording one thing I was grateful for each of the 365 days. Some days I struggled with limiting my recording to only one. Other days, I stretched to recall one. Regardless, each day received a gratitude note.

A month of gratitude slips.

It became routine: a habit. Then, a life-changer.

I dug out a book given to me a decade ago. I read and re-read it. It’s highlighted and dogeared. It’s a recipe for practicing gratitude.

Definition

Gratitude here is described as “the realization that we have everything we need, at least in this moment. It is stunningly simple. It helps us to return to our natural state of joyfulness where we notice what’s right instead of what’s wrong.”

If you’re reaching for ways to develop & keep an attitude of gratitude, read

Recommended Reading

Read on to find out how you can get a copy.

DATA COLLECTION

365 GOLDEN SLIPS

I cut 365 slips of golden paper and placed them into zip-lock bags by month. These sat in a basket next to my desk as a constant reminder not only to complete each slip daily but also to more fully recognize and appreciate events, behaviors, people, interactions, etc.

I became committed to appreciating this quote from the book: “Gratitude is like a flashlight. If you go out in your yard at night and turn on a flashlight, you suddenly can see what’s there. It was always there, but you couldn’t see it in the dark.”

What to Record

I didn’t limit myself to what could be recorded. The only rules were that just one item could be noted daily and that it could not be a recording of activity or an event and read like a journal. It had to be something unique about the day (or my approach or reaction to the day) that stood out and that I really appreciated and was grateful for.

Each day I made a recording, noted the date, folded the slip and put it in the container next to my desk.

Around March I began to realize how easy it is to forget things that happen on a daily basis that bring vast amounts of joy and enrichment to my life. Larger life events can often overshadow. For instance, 2018 brought some pretty seismic changes to our family life:

  • My husband, Ken, voluntarily switched careers.
  • Our son, Alex, married.
  • I doubled my client workload.
  • Illness and death of extended family and close friends.

Rather than focus on these major happenings, I recorded notes like, “admiration of Ken’s brain and intellect” and “cooling oceanside breeze on Alex’s wedding day.”

MONTH END REVIEW & RECALL

At the beginning of each month Ken and I would sit down and read aloud each slip from the prior month. We took turns randomly selecting slips until all were read and recalled. Some slips required explanation. Many brought delight as we remembered what was noted on the golden slip.[BONUS: Having someone to read and share a month’s worth of slips together is a real treat. But don’t let this stop you from recording on your own gratitude slips daily.]

DATA ANALYSIS

I used a research method-content analysis- to code all 365 golden gratitude slips. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/content%20analysis.

It is both qualitative (subjective, based on observation) and quantitative (objective, numbers).

Without getting too technical, I

  • Read each slip
  • Placed similar slips into the same group
  • Named each group like Marriage, Friendship, Immediate Family, Wellness, Etc.
  • Counted the number of slips in each group
  • Created sub-categories for large groups
  • Placed each category into 1 of 3 larger categories
  • Charted the slips by category

FINDINGS

Marriage

The largest number of gratitude slips (49) related to our 26 year marriage or my husband’s presence in my life. A sample includes, “pride in Ken’s hard work ethic and subsequent results,” “strength, faith and integrity through adversity and change,” and “honoring traditions like Ken’s standing the first Saturday of each May as “My Old Kentucky Home” is sung at the Derby.” [He’s a Kentucky native.]

Friends

We’ve lived in eight states. Making, appreciating and retaining friends across the globe are highly valued (30). “Social skills to make friends and develop life-long friendships.” “Friendships from work settings despite employer changes.” “Invitations to outings with new friends.”

Wedding Day Breakfast, Charleston, SC, July 3, 2018

Mother/Son

Alex, 24, is our only child. Time spent with him was mentioned 24 times. It is the greatest gift he gives me. On Mother’s Day I noted, “grateful for the title of mother.” “Honest/frank conversations,” and “Drive and dedication at his job” were also noted.

Immediate Family

Our immediate family grew to four in 2018 with Alex’s marriage. Again, time spent together was mentioned most. I’m was grateful for their wedding day and marriage. We’re all grateful for their home offer being accepted and the ease of their move-in.

Extended Family

Siblings, nieces, cousins, parents and in-laws were mentioned 18 times. Highlights: “Inclusiveness and traditions of Loon Lake, MN cousins, like their pre-meal prayer, ‘We love our bread. We love our butter. But most of all we love each other.’ “Adult women who become friends” and “uninterrupted travel time with brother from NE to MN.”

Other

Forty-four (44) golden slips simply could not be forced into another category and got placed in “OTHER.” Samples include, “safety of winter roadways, “service experts like window washers, snow removers, HVAC technicians, etc.”, “Nebraska volleyball players’ grit coming back to win from two sets down,” and “beauty and majesty of fireworks displays.”

Wellness

Access to medical care with kind, caring professionals was frequently mentioned (35). I have a progressive scoliosis. Access to warm water and massage therapy were often cited. “Motivation and commitment to pool exercise for maintenance of health and mobility,” “ability to rest and recover,” and “understanding need for self-care.”

Travel

I am curious and have gypsy-like traits. Thus, I thrive on travel (13) and immersing myself in new surroundings and cultures. I am most grateful for the means to travel.

Nature

Many of my/our travels include exploration of nature and the outdoors (11). Sample notations included: “Sunrises.” “Sitting on dock listening to sounds of loons on lake” and “full moon lighting our travel on I-80.”

Loon Lake, Minnesota

Personal Traits

Personal skills or traits appeared on 29 golden slips. These skills included traits like tolerance, compassion, sense of humor, emotional strength, ability to let go, forgiveness, life long learner, celebratory, etc.

Business Skill

Business aptitude or skills were noted 19 times. Problem-solving, analytical, group facilitation and connection, persistence, creative and artistic, communication (courageous, multi-generational, etc.) and organizational and planning are samples of the greater list.

Alone Time

Alone time only appeared four times during the year. History explains that. I hail from a family of 11. I enjoy being surrounded by people and activity.

CONCLUSIONS

  • There is always something to be grateful for. Recognizing this and pausing to understand gratitude were teachable moments.
  • I was grateful prior to this 365 day exercise. Committing gratitude to paper daily did, however, amplify the many blessings in my life.
  • My gratitude notes mirror my personal priorities. Almost half of the notes (46%) landed in “Marriage + Family.” Over a third (36%) fell in “External” and Eighteen percent (18%) were personal.
  • I was surprised by the number of personal and business traits (combined 48) mentioned on the gratitude slips. Clearly, I understand that my approach to both situations and people stems from the skills I possess and use. Experience (age) does lead to wisdom and insight.
  • Traveling fills my soul whether domestic or off-shore. Yet, it only had 13 mentions during the year. Perhaps, I’ve taken this blessing a bit for granted.
  • I have solidified my belief that most people are good and have good intentions. Forgiveness seems to come easier.
  • An attitude of gratitude is a daily work in progress. Admittedly, while raising a family, working and maintaining a life, it’s not easy to focus on self-improvement.
  • If I had a do-over, I’d have done this exercise earlier in my life. It’s never too late to start.

FUTURE

  • Keep understanding that to experience gratitude, I have to first be aware I’ve been given something (not necessarily a material thing).
  • Start each day being abundantly joyful.
  • Consciously count my blessings on a daily basis.
  • Realize there are trying times and discover the gift in those moments.
  • Be present and aware, especially during mundane, ordinary tasks.
  • Focus on needs not wants.
  • Notice and appreciate each person’s talents.
  • Live simply and minimally.
  • Keep expectations in check.
  • Give thanks every day, including at meal time.
  • Re-read “Attitudes of Gratitude” as needed to get re-focused.

Sandra from Sioux Falls, SD won the book! Congrats!

If you’d like a free copy of “Attitudes of Gratitude,” complete the form below and list the #1 thing you are most grateful for at the moment. List 1 item only.

CLOSED: A random winner will be chosen by May 1, 2019.

©Copyright. April 2019. Linda Leier Thomason
All Rights Reserved. This means seek permission prior to using any images or copy on this site. All are copyright protected and images are available for sale.


Linda Leier Thomason writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business.
She specializes in undercover studies of communities wishing to attract visitors for economic impact. Read more about her background and qualifications by clicking on the “Meet Linda” tab above.
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Why Having Cancer Can Be a Positive Thing

Cancer is Hard & Scary. It Can Also be Amazing

Two 57-year-old female professionals meet for the first time at a sushi bar in Omaha, Nebraska. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. It’s not. Kathy and Terry quickly learned they shared triple negative breast cancer.

At a patio table in the late day’s sunshine, they tossed medical jargon around like others discuss politics or sports. They laughed while sharing baldness tales. They empathized with one another while listening to how cancer affects loved ones more than themselves.

Repeatedly, they blasted the negativity of cancer information. Neither ever found a book or article that was “positive about what an amazing journey cancer can be if one keeps the right attitude.”

Despite this, these women stayed focused on the positive aspects of cancer during and after treatment.

I marvel at their strength, frankness and sense of humor. Each will inspire you, or a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis.

If someone you know or love is facing cancer, SHARE this story with them. Even if you don’t have a cancer diagnosis, these women and their positive approach to life are inspirational.

Meet the fantastic Kathy & Terry

Kathy Bressler

Kathy and Mike, her husband of 35 years, recently moved to Omaha from the Pacific Northwest. She’s the Senior VP, Chief Operating Officer for CHI Health. Their two married sons, a daughter and four grandchildren remain there. Her general health was “amazing” before her 2015 cancer diagnosis. Today she still describes it as “awesome.”

She should know. Kathy has both a masters and a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Family History

Kathy’s mother died from her second breast cancer at age 61. Her grandmother died from the same when Kathy’s mom was just 9 years old. This strong family history had Kathy doing monthly breast self-exams at a young age and starting mammograms at age 35. In 2002 she was genetically tested and was negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2.

“When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, I was genetically tested again for all of the genes known, and I was negative for all of them, again.”

Hearing You Have Cancer

“I had a very hot, sharp pain in my right breast on November 29, 2015. My husband urged me to be seen. So, I had diagnostics the next day.” Kathy’s general surgeon delivered the cancer diagnosis to her. “Hearing it is a surreal out-of-body feeling. I was probably less scared than my family and friends because I had so many things I had to do.” Her surgeon didn’t give her any prognosis. Instead, they got to work and jointly planned action steps “to take care of business. I was sad and scared for my family, more than anything.”

Bilateral Mastectomy

Kathy had both breasts removed 11 days after diagnosis. The tumor was so close to the surface that the circulation in her right breast was compromised. She spent six weeks in a hyperbaric chamber. Doing this five days a week, seven hours a day healed her.

In early February 2016 she started 22 weeks of chemotherapy and ended five weeks of radiation therapy in August 2016. She had reconstructive surgery to remove spacers and insert implants in April 2017.

A month later she contracted an infection behind the right-side implant and was hospitalized for five days on IV antibiotics. She also took oral antibiotics for another six weeks.

Today, she’s infection free and feeling “awesome.” She has oncologist appointments once every quarter. “She checks labs for abnormalities and any symptoms that might indicate a recurrence. Recurrence is my greatest fear.”

Head Shaving Party

Kathy’s family, friends and caregivers surrounded her with love and comfort upon hearing her diagnosis. Each continues to check in regularly. As one would expect, when hearing the diagnosis, they had the normal emotions of sadness, thoughtfulness and support.

They drove her to appointments and offered to help in other ways. “I tried hard to stay independent. It was nice to be able to let loved ones do something.” It made them feel part of her journey.

“I’d urge family members to learn about the diagnosis, don’t baby the patient.” Rather she’d encourage them to exercise daily and stay connected socially. She did both.

She’s a hot yoga fanatic. She did it every single day throughout treatment. “The people there were with me every day. I couldn’t have asked for more love and kindness.”

Kathy hosted a head shaving party for 53 people. “It was amazing to watch the emotion in the room. I was doing great. I know it was hard for everyone. It was a very special evening. Being bald was amazing and I love that.”

Gold Star

Hopefully any cancer patient has a list of those who provided comfort through treatment. Kathy does. Husband Mike was “positive and encouraging.” Her kids were amazing. Her daughter was like a nurse to her-hopping in the shower with her mom to ensure her safety when she was weak.

Her brother and sister-in-law and girlfriend, Jennifer, were rock solid in their support.

She’d award a gold star to her chemo nurse Krystal. Krystal took care of her every Monday for 22 weeks. “I fell madly in love with her. She could not have provided me more positive care.” Krystal became a good friend and a great teacher.

Blessed by Cancer Lessons

Kathy is an administrator in a large healthcare system. Her personal cancer journey has changed the way she leads.

It caused her to re-think about what their patients deserve.

She’s quickly irritated hearing stories about how other women were not taken care of in the way they should’ve been. She fully understands not everyone’s journey was amazing as hers was.

Today she:

  • Asks employers of cancer patients to be sensitive and let them keep working as able.
  • Tells oncologists to stay positive and encourage their patients to do the same.
  • Urges patients to accept the love and support of family, friends and caregivers.
  • Reaches out to newly diagnosed women.
  • Participates in a California study specific to triple negative breast cancer.
  • Serves on the Susan G. Komen Advisory Board.
  • Wishes for a world without breast cancer.
  • Feels beyond blessed to have experienced breast cancer. “I know it sounds odd but this diagnosis has changed my life for the better, in so many ways.”

Terry Owens

Terry, a recently retired Disability Management Director, was in excellent health when she learned she had breast cancer. Equally annoying was the fact that there was no family history of breast cancer.

“I was showering one July 2015 morning and felt a large lump in my left breast near the armpit. I called my gynecologist and therein began my cancer journey.” Several referrals and appointments later, she learned it had already become Stage 3. It wasn’t until after Labor Day 2015 she heard it was Triple Negative Cancer.

Self-Exams & Mammograms

A native of Northeast Arkansas with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, Terry is a mother of two adult children and grandmother to a 17-month-old. Baby Lyla is expected in December 2017.

She learned to perform breast self-exams at the Baptist Health Breast Center in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“They have videos and sample breasts with lumps for patients to palpate.” This teaches women what a lump may feel like on her body. Terry admits she was not vigilant about performing monthly self-exams, but she did perform them every so often. She did have mammograms yearly.

Steps to Wellness

Terry’s initial screening (mammogram and ultrasound) was in Arkansas. “The technician returned to the room with a pale and sick look on her face. I knew it was cancer even though she couldn’t confirm it.” Terry was alone when the gynecologist called to share the results and initiate a plan.

She returned to Omaha where she lived and worked. Her primary care physician referred her to a breast surgeon who performed a biopsy and reported the triple negative diagnosis.

She started chemotherapy in early September and became terribly sick, losing 12 pounds along with her hair 16 days after starting. She felt extreme fatigue.

In February 2016, she had a lumpectomy and began radiation, which lasted two months. [Her lymph nodes weren’t removed. Instead her chest, breast and armpit were radiated.]

Follow Ups to Health

After completing radiation, Terry was seen every three months and had repeated mammograms.

Today she’s seen every six months by a breast surgeon, oncologist and oncology radiologist. Like Kathy, she’s also participating in a research study. Hers is for patients who choose not to remove lymph nodes.

She’s happy to report she’s clear and returning to health.

Faith & Comfort

As expected, when hearing her diagnosis, her children cried. They offered love and support throughout. “Most embraced the hope of recovery and survival.”

Terry has a deep faith in the Lord. “He provided my friends and family, as well as my church family, to minister to me and take care of me. Even though I lived alone, someone was with me every time I had chemotherapy.”

Her best friends visited, brought food and kept house. Her children came. “I had enough drugs in me from Friday treatments that I felt well enough to show friends and family around Omaha. Unfortunately, I was always sickest on Sundays-the day everyone left to go home or back to school and work.”

Simple Bit of Food Advice

In their wanting to help, many brought food Terry couldn’t eat. Unfortunately, she had to dispose of it and sometimes didn’t have a prepared meal as scheduled. For instance, she couldn’t tolerate onions and garlic. So, she’d recommend asking the patient or her caregiver about food tolerance before you drop food off for the patient. She doesn’t want someone’s thoughtful and kind gesture to go to waste.

Superstar Chemist

Terry singled out the chemist who mixed her chemo drugs as a superstar through her cancer journey. “He was fabulous in giving me all kinds of helpful tips on caring for myself and managing the nausea, constipation and fatigue.” He even put stickers on her papers and directions for her medication schedules. Simple touches go a long way.

More Information

  • Click on the green live links throughout this article.
  • Pink it Forward
  • Susan G. Komen
  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • CHI Breast Cancer Support Group

7 Simple Ways to Help Someone with Cancer

  1. Treat them as normally as possible.
  2. Offer rides, meals (see above), chores, phone calling, etc.
  3. Plan an outing with flexibility in case patient doesn’t feel well.
  4. Keep your troubles to yourself. Your friend has cancer. Don’t ask her to fix your life at the moment too
  5. Stay positive. If patient is prayerful, pray with and for her.
  6. Stay in her life even if you feel like you don’t know what to do for her.
  7. Organize a scheduled support group around her. Schedule ride, food delivery, companionship, bathing support, etc.

SHARE this article. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

©Copyright. October 2017.  Linda Leier Thomason

All rights reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below. Rights Reserved.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Smile Hides Russian Orphan Life

Meet Mara

Mara shares in the happiest times of her customer’s lives. She helps select engagement and wedding rings, anniversary bands and other special occasion jewelry. She’s a jewelry sales professional for Greenberg’s Jewelers  at Omaha’s Westroads Mall.

But, while she’s helping others celebrate their happy times, few know the life she’s lived. Meet the incredible Mara Alyona Palmquist.

Russian Orphanage & Kindness

Mara’s earliest years were spent in Kalyazin, Russia.

Her strongest Russian home memory is of boiling water for her brother’s bath. “It took so long to fill up the tub. I had to boil the water and then carry the pot back to the bathroom. By the time I got there, half of it was spilled. It stands out to me because he was all I had. I always looked out for him, even at that early age.”

In Russia

When she was five, the State removed Mara and her 3-year-old brother, Vanya, from her alcoholic parent’s home and placed them in a Russian orphanage. She’s never seen her parents since, but longs to return to see especially her dad, whom she’s recently learned is still alive.

Though life was tough, her fondest memory is of kindness at school, particularly from her first-grade teacher. It was not hard to identify orphans in school. They wore jean skirts and jackets. The students were asked to draw a picture of whatever they wanted. “Everyone got a pencil. The teacher gave me a pen. And, my classmate next to me gave me stickers for my picture. I’ll never forget their kindness.”

In 2001, at age 11, Mara’s life was again filled with kindness. She and Vanya came to Los Angeles, California through the Kidsave organization.

Summer Miracles®

The Summer Miracles ® program places older orphans, aged 11-14, who have little chance to be adopted in their own countries, with families in an orphan hosting program. Children, who are available for adoption, stay with host families for a 4-to-5-week summer visit. While in the USA, the kids learn about the culture, attend summer camp, and experience life in an American family. Host families work with Kidsave staff and volunteers to find the children adoptive families. [Nearly 200,000 orphans are currently growing up without families in Russian state institutions.] Visit the Kidsave website for more information and/or to host a child: https://www.kidsave.org/

Los Angeles to Branson, MO

Mara and Vanya were placed with a widow in Los Angles who wasn’t interested in adoption after the summer program ended. Instead, a Branson, Missouri family that was in California on vacation “got a random voice message on their hotel phone saying there were 2 kids about to be sent back to a Russian orphanage if not placed with a family.” The family shortened their vacation. The father remained in California with Mara and Vanya for a few days and then traveled with them to Missouri to meet the “rest of the family.”

Fitting into a Family of 11

The rest of Michelle and Andre’s family included 9 other children-7 of their own and another brother and sister adopted from a different orphanage. All of a sudden, Mara and Vanya were part of a group of 11. Adapting was difficult.

While she doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her, Mara admits being adopted is not easy. It’s difficult to be part of a new family, knowing where to fit in the family, church and culture. “I had to learn how to be a daughter, an older sister, a younger sister. Religion was hard. Fitting in overall was challenging.” She sat in front of a mirror for hours each day practicing her English accent so she wouldn’t sound “funny.”

Mara feels extremely blessed and eternally grateful that her family opened their home to them because some of the kids they knew from the orphanage got sent back to Russia for behavioral issues. “It changed my life for the better. I have so many opportunities that I’d never have had in Russia. There, at age 16, you are put on the streets. Prostitution is so high for that reason.”

Guilt & Gratitude

Mara sometimes feels guilty for the life she has in the USA. “I’m living this beautiful life with so much, knowing my Russian family is still struggling  and I can’t help them at all.”

She understands many Americans have it worse than she ever did. “I grew up going to school, having food in my belly and dressing in clean clothes. I had a roof over my head.” Mara’s inspired by these basics: she calls them gifts. “God brought me here for a reason. I want to show him it was the right place for me and I won’t waste this opportunity to better myself.”

She never takes relationships and friendships for granted and cherishes life. She seeks opportunities to do something great and make someone smile.

Jewelry Sales

Mara achieves that goal every day she’s selling at Greenberg’s Jewelers. She finds it particularly rewarding to help nervous couples select a perfect piece of jewelry. She builds rapport, especially with “lookers,” easily finding out why they entered the store and then helping them. She’s a relationship builder with excellent listening skills. “Customers will just walk in to chat when they’re in the mall shopping. I love that. I enjoy hearing their stories about how they met, their first date, etc. It makes my work day all worth it.”

Circle of Life

Making her life all worth it is her adorable six-year-old son, Brody. “He has the purest heart and was the best birthday present ever. [Born six weeks early on Mara’s 21st birthday.] “Having a child of my own makes me understand God’s unconditional love for us.”

Mara works hard every day and hopes Brody is proud of “his mommy.” She does not want the life she has had for Brody. She’d like to be able to provide him everything she never had growing up. “I’m not talking about material things.” Instead, Mara wants to shower Brody with love and affection and kisses and tell him “he’s the best kid in the whole world.”

Growing up in a Russian orphanage was not easy. But Mara learned how to survive and how to blend in. Now, as a mother, she knows what she craved and never received in her younger years. Mara now provides that to her own son. And, when the time is right, she will share her early years with him, most likely with a joint trip to Russia.

My husband, Ken, and I had the remarkable experience of working with Mara when selecting a 25th wedding anniversary band in May 2017. She made us feel like newlyweds through the entire sales process.

Other than her outstanding sales skills and techniques, we were drawn to her as a person.  Behind her charisma and smile, we sensed a deeper story to her life. I thank her for the courage it took to recall memories of her Russian life and for sharing them with all of us.

Russian Trip: Funds Needed

Mara needs to raise funds to secure the required paperwork to plan a visit to Russia. If you’d like to help, please contact me by completing the form below. Can you contribute?

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

©Copyright. August 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Need for Life Adventure Led to Renowned Spine Center

This is a story about a Bismarck, North Dakota collegiate soccer player seeking an adventure in life and finding his way to the largest specialized care hospital in the United States. The Shepherd Center is a private, not-for-profit hospital located in Atlanta, Georgia. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center specializes in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain and other neuromuscular conditions. Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. Josh Zottnick is the Lead Exercise Specialist in the Center’s Beyond Therapy® program.

Education is Key

Josh, the second oldest of accountant Doug (deceased) and nurse Barb’s four children, was anxious to see more of the world after graduating from Bismarck’s University of Mary with a BS in Athletic Training & Sports Medicine. A chat with a childhood friend introduced him to the Exercise Physiology program at the University of Georgia (Athens) where he earned his Masters of Education in Clinical Exercise Physiology in 2003.

Car Wreck

A friend’s car wreck, that resulted in his traumatic brain injury, drew Josh to the Shepherd Center away from his cardiac rehab work. “After my first visit with him, I was working at the Center three months later.” July 2017 marks Josh’s 12th year there. “I visited my friend several times over the first couple of weeks and saw his dramatic improvement. He was one of the lucky ones; he made a full recovery.” Seeing his friend’s traumatic ordeal inspired Josh to want to do more.

Inspire & Trust

Every day his spinal cord and traumatic brain injury outpatients inspire him. He conducts intricate strength training regimens in the weight room, cardio sessions on apparatus, assisted locomotor training on body weight supported treadmills and functional training sessions. Each of these is intended for clients to process through their activities of daily living in a more efficient manner.

Not all rehab clients are equal. The most challenging type is one who is negative and lacks hope. “A negative attitude confounds the rehab situation.”

Josh works to build rapport and develop trusting professional relationships. “When clients trust you, they see the world from a different point of view. They trust where you are taking them is the right place.

Josh is a working example of the Shepherd Center’s Mission: Helping people with a temporary or permanent disability caused by injury or disease, rebuild their lives with hope, independence and dignity. “The worst and best part of my job is seeing someone struggle and then overcome those struggles. Helping clients unlock their potential keeps me going.”

Team USA

Josh’s commitment to his profession isn’t limited to an 8-5 workday. He recently returned from Australia. Here he supported Team USA at the Adaptive Waterski World Championships.  The team won the silver medal and seven members won individual medals. Australia won gold; Italy the bronze.

Afterwards he and his wife of nearly six years, Reagan, toured Australia-yet another life adventure.

Lawncare, Mutts + Pearl Jam

Josh, 38, isn’t all work. In addition to soccer, he still plays basketball and wakeboards. “I even try to incorporate these into some client sessions.” He met Reagan playing flag football in Atlanta. “She blew me away with how she had her life together. She’s beautiful, smart, kind, fun and independent.”

When not working or participating in a sporting event, Josh “loves to do lawn care.” He’s also somewhat of a Pearl Jam fanatic, seeing them 28 times. “Their lyrics are introspective and informative. They are saying something in their songs. The music affects me on so many levels. Seeing them live is amazing.”

He and Reagan also support a friend’s animal rescue nonprofit, Mostly Mutts. They volunteer time for fundraisers and foster dogs until adoption.

Magic Wand

Josh’s hopes and dreams for the future, which he thinks someone might already be working on, include invention of an implant that will bridge across the injured area of the spinal cord. This would help people regain all of the function they had before injury and allow them to walk again.

If he could wave a magic wand for the next 20 years of his life, he’d be retired and traveling to see his kids on their college campuses for Parent’s Weekend. And, the ultimate would be taking in a UGA Bulldogs football game with them.

That’s not much to ask for a guy from North Dakota giving his time and talent to restore quality of life to 100’s of clients of the Shepherd Spine Center. Is it?

 

Please Like and Share.

One never knows whose life can be improved by working with Josh and the Shepherd Center.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

Copyright. June 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midwestern Values Led Tomlinson Straight to the Top

Sales Executive Reflects on 36 Year Career

Mike Tomlinson became a member of Aflac’s prestigious Hall of Fame in December 2015. This honor recognizes individuals who’ve had a significant career impact on Aflac’s 62-year existence. Currently, Mike is the youngest member admitted into this elite group of 17.

How did a Detroit Lakes, Minnesota  native and 28-year resident of Watertown, South Dakota reach this level in a Fortune 500 corporation that regularly lands on the annual 100 Best Companies to Work for list?

It wasn’t luck or connections. It was hard work, dedication and Midwestern values.

Father’s Influence

Mac on violin with Amazing Rhythm Aces in MN in 1920’s.

Mike’s father Mac (Marion) had the biggest impact on his life. “He was my business role model. He instilled a strong work ethic in me and extremely optimistic attitude toward business opportunity in America.” Mac founded two successful businesses and purchased another. His father, who was 72-years-old when Mike was born, retired from the day-to-day management of Tomlinson Lumber in Callaway, MN in his late 70’s. “One of the hallmarks of the lumber company’s success was treating the 50+ employees so well that they stayed long-term and performed very well,” recalled Mike. “Dad also became a Christian later in life and this had a profound impact on the business values he instilled in us.”

In retirement Mac developed a large tract of lake property that he owned in Detroit Lakes MN. Mike and his brothers and sisters worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their dad to improve and sell these lake lots, all the while learning valuable life and business lessons.

Values Guiding His Life

Mike is led by three values that guide his everyday life. They are:

  1. Tell the Truth. As his dad used to say, “Tell the truth and you only have to remember one story.”
  2. Under Promise and Over Deliver. Always meet or exceed expectations. Be careful not to overcommit.
  3. Listen More Than Talk. Ask good questions and really listen. “I was really impacted by Stephen Covey’s advice in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood’.”

Family + Music Man

Mike’s greatest joy comes from having a great family. He and wife, Michelle, have been married 40 years. They are the proud parents of three sons-Jeremy, Jesse and Jackson-and grandparents of five girls and eight boys. An ideal day for Mike, now retired from his 36 year Aflac career, is spent traveling and experiencing God’s creations and relaxing with his family.

Mike also enjoys music as a guitar player. He’s been a church worship leader for more than 25 years and played in the successful country rock band, Sagebrush, in the 1970’s. This northwest Minnesota band opened for and toured with national acts such as Black Oak Arkansas, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jerry Jeff Walker, The Bellamy Brothers, Alabama, and others.

His all-time favorite song to perform is Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream”. Why? Because, of course, “it epitomizes having a positive attitude and pursuing your dreams.”

Cancer Experience Begins Insurance Career

Mike’s mother Ozella passed away from a nine-year battle with cancer just three months prior to his first insurance agent interview. It was the cancer policy that drew him to a long Aflac career. “Even though my parents had excellent health insurance, I could see a clear need for a cancer policy to provide additional cash benefits to cover the multitude of non-medical (travel, lodging, meals, loss of income, etc.) expenses caused by this disease.”

As a 22-year-old, Mike was astute enough to recognize a company with great opportunity for growth and advancement, if he delivered results. And, once aboard, he applauded Aflac’s commitment to fairly and quickly paying claims and thrived in the pay and promote for performance culture. “I never really considered taking on or switching to any other companies or careers.”

Rising Through Aflac Ranks

Mike’s work ethic and business savvy led him to rise quickly in Aflac. He was a District Sales Coordinator (DSC) for five years before becoming a Regional Sales Coordinator (RSC) for three. It was during this time that his favorite Aflac memory happened. His NW Minnesota Regional Team broke the Aflac all-time production record (Wall of Fame) by coordinating a complex take-over of a block of Medicare supplement business in MN. This achievement required extensive collaboration and was one of his most challenging and gratifying leadership efforts in his 36 year career.

For nearly 20 years Mike was the North and South Dakota State Sales Coordinator (SSC) before becoming the Vice-President of the Central Territory (8 states in the upper Midwest)-a position he had for six years.

He then held several senior leadership positions at corporate before his retirement, including Senior Vice President and Director of U.S. Sales. Here he oversaw 70,000 U.S. associates and coordinators (independent contractors) and a team of 225 sales employees while managing a $125 million budget and a $1.5 billion annual sales quota. Predictably, sales positively turned 10.2 percent during his tenure.

During 35 years of leadership and management Mike’s teams achieved quota 27 years, or 77 percent of the time. When he retired, U.S. President, Teresa White said, “Mike has the admiration and respect of all of us. He is an outstanding leader, not only achieving 36 years of record-breaking sales but more importantly serving as a true role model of excellence in ethics, values and performance.” Chairman and CEO Dan Amos added, “Mike is a top performer and I’ve never known a finer person or better role model. His has been an impressive and motivational journey. Along the way, he has had a direct and positive impact on thousands of lives, including mine.”

 8 Life Lessons from Leading & Managing

For nearly four decades Mike had led and managed people and organizations. He shares these observations and lessons learned during this time.

  1. The #1-character trait that leads to professional success is persistence. It trumps talent, education and intelligence, though these are important too.
  2. Most people get sidetracked by working in their business instead of on their business to reach success. It’s good to step back and enlist the perspective and help of others and assess one’s business.
  3. Once an employee has been taught his job, stand back and let him learn from hands-on effort and results. Edge them out of the nest to fly earlier on their own.
  4. Think big. Don’t let your past limit your future. And, don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of it is small stuff.
  5. Invest heavily (time and money) in developing your people. Care enough about them to be honest and candid. Identify simple metrics (skills or activity) for improvement and monitor and discuss regularly. Praise progress as people respond much better to positive feedback than negative.
  6. Count your blessings regularly and work and live your life with passion. If you can’t enjoy the majority of your work, find something else to do.
  7. Integrity is important. If someone cheats on small things like golf or a sales number, they likely will cheat on bigger things. When I find people I can give a blank check to, I will give them the utmost responsibility.
  8. Work/Life balance is important. I suffered a serious heart attack at age 46 and now work hard to balance work with an appropriate amount of exercise, sleep and relaxation. The older I’ve gotten the more important my relationship with Christ has become. It’s easier to see through a mature lens that this is the ultimate “long-term planning.”

The Near Future

Mike considers himself to be exceptionally good at developing and executing strategy and staying calm and rational in tense situations. No one who’s worked with him would argue against that self-assessment.

Now, after almost two years of retirement and travel, he plans to continue to use his years of winning business skills as a consultant in the near future.

And, how he’d like to eventually be remembered, well that’s easy: “Being a loving husband, father and grandfather.”

 

 

Share with others who’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from Mike.

©Copyright. March 2017. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

What can I write for you? Contact me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why This Woman is Obsessed with March Madness

March Madness isn’t just for guys.

I’m a closet sports junkie. March Madness is my addiction. I study, watch and fill out multiple brackets; and historically win a few. I’m highly competitive by nature and for these 18 days, my drug of choice-competition-is all consuming.

I hunker down in the family room and watch endless hours of collegiate young men bounce and loft basketballs. Their sweat-coated coaches roam the sidelines as rabid fans experience wild mood swings during 40 minute games. There are winners and losers. There certainly are upsets. I root for underdogs, always.

It’s thrilling when lower seeded teams triumph and heart-breaking when my household’s team favorites-Iowa State Cyclones and Louisville Cardinals-are beaten. It’s been reported that companies lose millions during this time period. Apparently I’m not the only one obsessed. My approach to completing brackets and picking winners is more gut than analytical. However, one variable always gets the greatest weight-the head coach.

I pay attention to Bracketology with Joe Lunardi.  I study variables like season record, outstanding players, injuries and tournament location. But I never stray from what I consider the greatest determinant of winning teams-the coach.

Perennial Coaches

Rick Pitino

There are well-known March Madness perennial coaching favorites like Mike Krzyzewski of Duke. His absence was clearly felt this season while he was recovering from a recent surgery. He has this certain something that attracts great talent and makes these players deliver outstanding basketball. Then, there’s Rick Pitino from the Louisville Cardinals. Loaded with coaching skills and bravado, Pitino leads the favorite team of both my husband and our son. According to them, he’s a near basketball God. UPDATE: Coach Pitino left the University of Louisville disgraced. The University of Louisville Athletic Association (ULAA) terminated his contract on October 16, 2017.

Another tournament constant is West Virginia’s Bobby Huggins. Who doesn’t want to hug Huggins? He’s so teddy bear like. He sits on a sideline stool and ends every game toweling off like he’s just laid everything out on the floor for 40 long minutes. I’m not fooled. He coaches against my Alma mater Iowa State in the Big 12 Conference. He might look like a teddy bear, but Huggins consistently has winning teams with oppressive defense. Seems more like a tiger, perhaps, than a teddy bear.

Coaches I Miss on the Sidelines

I have to admit that come March I miss watching the gracefulness and steadiness of Fred Hoiberg. Coach Hoiberg was both a legendary player and coach at Iowa State who now coaches the Chicago Bulls.  He never seemed to overreact. He stood steadfast with arms crossed,understanding a game doesn’t end until the final buzzer sounds. Cool and collected, almost always.

I certainly miss one of the greatest and most loyal basketball teachers ever- Dean Smith from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I admired the fact that he was always dressed like he was going to work and spoke so eloquently about his players. He understood that they were “just imperfect kids.” I secretly wanted him as a coach. I longed to meet or shadow him. Oh, the many things I could’ve learned in person not just about basketball but about life from Coach Smith. Will there ever be another one like him?

I’m old enough to remember Jimmy Valvano from North Carolina State University.  In the mind of my five foot tall body I see this larger-than-life man with wet-looking, dark hair running up and down the sidelines. He always appeared to be hailing a taxi cab or signaling to an approaching ambulance. His hand gestures were that large and urgent. He was intense, but with a gentle giant sort of kindness about him. The world did lose him too early.

Lute Olson

Former Indiana Coach, Bobby Knight, and Georgetown’s John Thompson taught me a few choice words during March Madness and often had me repeating a threat from childhood, “Do I need to wash your mouth out with soap?” Meanwhile Lute Olson appeared like a statesman on the sidelines. Lute, a fellow North Dakotan, coached at Iowa-the fierce rival of Iowa State.  I forgave him. Afterall, there aren’t that many North Dakotans on the national basketball stage. Well, there’s Phil Jackson-who attended high school and college in North Dakota and famously coached the Chicago Bulls during the Michael Jordan era. Next he coached the Los Angeles  Lakers before taking the presidency of the New York Knicks, where he is today.

Impressive, Lesser Known Coaches

Everyone knows Kansas and Kentucky are perennial favorites. These teams will remain such with their stellar records and recruiting abilities led by Bill Self and John Calipari, respectively. It’s not that I don’t think they are great coaches. It’s just that they are two or three steps ahead of other teams because of these factors. What I really respect and take notice of are those coaches who aren’t universally known. Those who dig and lead less talented teams to the top. Here are 4 college basketball coaches who’ve recently left a lasting impression on me. There certainly are many impressive collegiate coaches, but these 4 stand out to me. I wish them each well as they continue to teach young players and build teams that give us memorable March moments.

  1. Ron Hunter: Georgia State.

    Some say Coach Hunter gained national acclaim by falling off his sideline stool in the March 2015 tournament. But, like most who’ve risen to prominence, Coach Hunter has been working at coaching for decades. He’s put in the sweat equity. Every March I look forward to his tournament commentary, which is always unfiltered and insightful. There’s nothing like hearing it from someone who does it. And, I like hearing it from Coach Hunter…who by the way…has a son, R.J., currently on the Boston Celtics roster. I know Coach Hunter would rather be on the sidelines than in a broadcast studio or booth, but when he isn’t, I’m glad he’s on the air.

  2. Shaka Smart: University of Texas via Virginia Commonwealth University

I have to admit I was first drawn to Shaka because of his surname, Smart-a Zulu warrior name. How blessed can one man be to have the last name, Smart? It fits. He is smart and was quite young when he led his Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) team to the Final Four in 2011. He’s another sideline runner with demonstrative hands and a loud voice. But, what overshadows all of this is the respect the players seems to have for him regardless of the school he’s at. Shaka has been coaching at the University of Texas (Longhorns) since 2015.

  1. Bob McKillop: Davidson

Must be something about North Carolina men’s basketball coaches and me. Here’s another gem I respect and admire coaching a NC school. I fan crushed on him so much that in 2008 I sent him a handwritten letter after his team’s legendary tournament run. Yes, that was the year the world became aware of Stephen Curry as the Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight. His mannerisms, humbleness and overall coaching style inspired me to write and say, among other things, that if our son ever wanted to play basketball I wanted him to play under the guidance of someone with his character. Impressively, he contacted me. It wasn’t a recruiting contact. Rather, he acknowledged that the behavior, words and antics of coaches do matter, privately and publicly.  Simply, he was glad I saw him in a positive manner and acknowledged it. Class. All class for 25+ years.

  1. Andy Enfield: University of Southern California via Florida Gulf Coast University

I’m a woman with eyes. And in 2013 Coach Enfield initially caught my eye more so for his All-American looks than his coaching style. That year he brought the Florida Gulf Coast team to the tournament, leading them into the Sweet Sixteen. As his team took down powerhouses like Georgetown, he became less about eye candy and more about grit and style. He’s now leading a very talented USC team and teaching his up-tempo offense to a group of players who seem to be adapting well to Coach’s style.

Coach McKillop was right. Coaches and their antics, teaching style and behavior matter both publicly and during practice. To me, it matters most in my tournament team selections.  I have no way of knowing if the public persona these coaches present is real or true. All I know is I’ve watched each of them over time and each consistently produces winning teams and teaches great basketball skills. I’m inspired by not only their wins but also their leadership skills and style.

Share this post with others who’d enjoy a trip down March Madness Memory Lane.

Here’s wishing every team much success in the tournament. And may you prevail in your brackets!

Enjoy 5 Great March Madness Moments.

2010: Gordon Hayward comes oh so close to winning the National Championship from half court for Butler. Duke prevails.

 

2016: “Jenkins for the championship!” Villanova wins 2016 championship on buzzer beating 3.

 

2016: Texas A&M comes from 12 points down with 34 seconds left to shock Northern Iowa.

 

1993: Chris Webber’s infamous travel and timeout call when there was not a timeout left.

 

2015: Georgia State ends game on 13-0 run including a deep 3 with 2.5 seconds left to shock Baylor 57-56. Meanwhile, Coach Hunter falls off his stool.

 

70’s Pittsburgh Steelers Shape Charleston Swimmer’s Life

Swimmer’s Tough-Mindedness

swim-around-charlestonKathleen Wilson grew up at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Three Rivers Stadium. Here she’d wait for the arrival of her Steelers, greet them, and then join her parents in their front row seats. “Honestly, my beloved Steelers, and those Sunday afternoons in the 1970’s, formed me. I learned about team and commitment from watching how those men performed and interacted. They were solid. Not flamboyant. Not attention seeking, just solid.”

Today, Kathleen uses these early observations and lessons in all areas of her diverse life in Charleston, South Carolina (SC). She’s a 30-year principal harpist with the symphony orchestra. She’s also a three-term city councilwoman and accomplished marathon swimmer and aquatics coach. Kathleen admits she lives a life of extremes.

She and her husband, Fred, have two children. Christine, 23, a U.S. Navy ensign, is training to become a helicopter pilot. Robbie, 20, is a junior mechanical engineering major at the Citadel. She’s also the proud caretaker of Lulu, Duke and Daisy. These rescue rabbits “are very sweet gentle animals fully capable of defending themselves when needed.” Kathleen knows both personalities firsthand.

To be successful Kathleen has blended fierceness with gentleness. She possesses a deep sense of commitment. This and her ability to press, and press relentlessly, originate from swimming. Being highly disciplined and enduring torment also originate from swim training. “Maybe that’s why I hold elected office.”

Marathon Swimmer

Post English Channel Swim with Coach Andrew
Post English Channel Swim with Coach Andrew

Remarkably, Kathleen has been swimming for 42 years. “I was not an outstanding swimmer growing up. I was the forgotten and ignored one.” It didn’t become clear until much later in life that Kathleen was an ocean swimmer, not a pool swimmer. She lacked speed for the classic 50 and 100 yard events. Instead, she possessed the tolerance and endurance for overnight ocean swimming and being pummeled in the rough surf.

Kathleen started ocean swimming after moving to SC in 1987. “I discovered I liked the ocean a lot more, given my lack of sprinting speed.” She settled into the waters and learned to handle the physical tossing around of the ocean and the mental game of being out there. It was appealing. It required Steeler toughness. She was all in.

She was fortunate to be coached by Charleston’s assistant USA Swimming coach Andrew Wunderley from 1998-2005. Kathleen talked Wunderley into training her for the 1999 Swim Around Manhattan, New York. He didn’t know anything about marathon swimming. Yet, over time, the duo became one of Charleston’s most successful coach/athlete combinations. Wunderley simply took the time to make adjustments to Kathleen’s technique and applied good, sound USA Swimming distance training principles.

Brought Sport to SC

Kathleen is credited with introducing marathon swimming to SC. It was virtually unknown before she participated in the annual 12 Mile Swim Around Key West event in 1997. Her 2001 English Channel Swim was big news locally. So much so that the local newspaper flew a crew to England to follow her journey. An entire region became familiar with marathon swimming and even hosted an airport homecoming celebration.

Kathleen’s initial goal was to simply complete the events. Now marathon swimming has morphed into a way of life and living at a higher level. “It’s about accepting hardship and challenging myself to do better. I’ve learned a lot about life spending countless hours training and swimming alone.” I’ve learned:

  • How to train properly outside of the water with weights, food and rest.
  • How to take care of my body, specifically shoulders
  • How to sacrifice to fund swims. These are not cheap.
  • How to value those who support and accompany me, including husband, Fred, and training partner and friend, Lesley Fanning. This isn’t a solo sport. Marathon swimmers require an excellent crew.
  • How to appreciate the adventures and experiences of these swims. I’ve seen and done things I never dreamed of. I’ve met people I’d otherwise never meet. I’ve put myself in extraordinary circumstances; some fantastic, some dangerous, and some challenges I couldn’t forecast. Sharks aren’t the most dangerous obstacle. The unexpected is. Wind, jellyfish and hypothermia also present challenges.
  • How to carefully plan. This isn’t done foolhardily. Alternate scenarios are prepared and everything is well thought out every time the open water is entered. This is not daredevil activity.

Public Office

harpWith an appetite for continuous challenge, Kathleen set her sights on representing James Island on the Charleston City Council. She ran and was defeated in 2002. She won in 2005. She’s now in the last year of her third term and plans to seek a fourth. (November 2017: Kathleen was not re-elected.) “I needed to expand my mind and skill set. Music is extremely isolating and one-dimensional.” Armed with a Bachelor of Music (1985) and Master of Music in Harp Performance (1987) from the Cleveland Institute of Music, Kathleen felt a bit intimidated by the process. “I had no law or business degree; however, serving the public and acquiring considerable knowledge and learning how to make sound decisions appealed to me.” Former Mayor Joseph P. Riley assured her the main skills were common sense and a good heart and that she could learn the rest. She has.

Presently, Kathleen is putting all of herself into getting a premier, major aquatics facility built for the citizens of Charleston. “No one ever died because he didn’t play tennis or soccer or ride a bike. Too many have because they didn’t swim. We are hopelessly behind as a community in creating good, sustainable athletic facilities that communities are demanding today. I will get this done.”

Swim Calm & Swim Around Charleston

SwimCalm Class
SwimCalm Class

As if being a member of the symphony, training for marathon swims and serving on city council weren’t enough, in 2010 Kathleen created Swim Around Charleston.  The 12 mile swim, hosted each fall, is an excellent way to introduce new swimmers to the sport. Participants also train for future swims and determine if the sport appeals to them. Swim Around Charleston is known nationally as a well-managed event.

Kathleen’s also founded SwimCalm, a course teaching fearful adults to swim.  Many of her students have failed traditional swim lessons. Under her guidance, they’ve gained both confidence and the ability to comfortably swim.

Soft People on Her Mind

So, what does this hard-driving, dedicated woman do to de-stress? “Baking is my therapy from swimming. Swimming is my therapy from life.” In addition, Kathleen enjoys reading and picking up bits of knowledge daily.

Watching Steelers football with bunny in team blanket
Watching Steelers football with bunny in team blanket

Spoken like a 1970’s die-hard Steeler’s fan, Kathleen is deeply concerned about the ‘softening of people.’ “It seems like we can’t withstand hardship anymore. There is declining knowledge and disinterest in important matters world-wide.” She believes everything is distilled into soundbites because of our failure to concentrate and see something from beginning to end.

She doesn’t lose sleep over this, but despises it. One thing she’s most grateful for is her lifelong excellent health. “Nothing can buy that. It’s impossible to recapture once gone. I treasure it daily.”

In the meantime, she’s going to keep fighting for a Charleston aquatics center, ensuring all learn to swim. She will continue to surround herself with a menagerie of rabbits. They provide much-needed calm and lower her blood pressure so she can keep doing what she loves and enjoys for a good long while.

©Copyright. October 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

Share this post with swimmers at all skill levels, those who think they don’t have enough time to publicly serve and those who just enjoy reading about inspirational people like Kathleen.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures of Cycling Central America

5 Months Creating Lifetime Memories

January 2016 Bismarck, ND Greyhound Bus Station
L-James R-Robert departing Bismarck, ND bus station January 2016

Robert and James, two twenty-something North Dakota (ND) males bicycling through Central America. One returns after four months, leaving the other to end his 3200+ mile journey 37 days later in Costa Rica. Along the way, they sleep in mango groves, the Mexican desert, on a dry river bed and the front yard of a drunken Dutchman’s property. They hike into a blizzard on a 17,000 foot mountain. Wild cats in El Salvador destroy the tent. They eat Chapulines-salted and dried grasshoppers.  Robert spends two days alone sweating out sickness in a dodgy, non-air-conditioned Honduran hotel room. His bike gets 7 flat tires. Yet, the abundant generosity and kindness of the Central American people sticks forever.

Day before James left Guatemala. Summit of Acatenango, 13,005 ft, with the Volcan de Fuego erupting behind us.
Day before James left Guatemala. Summit of Acatenango, 13,005 ft, with the Volcan de Fuego erupting in background.

Would you see this movie? Does the plotline pique your interest? It does mine. Except this isn’t yet a movie. It’s the true story of Robert Deringer and James Sigl, 2005 Bismarck High School graduates, intrigued enough by human power travel to embark on this life-changing journey.

 

 

In a Question and Answer session, Robert, a Minneapolis, Minnesota (MN) based arborist, shares his trip experience.

Trip Preparation

Q: Are you adventurous by nature?

A: I’ve participated in my fair share of 6, 12, 24 hour and even multiple day adventure races involving navigation, biking, trail running, a water element (kayak or canoe) and mystery challenges. I enjoy surrounding myself with people pushing their physical limits.

Having shared that, this was my first real big bike tour. I rode from St. Paul, MN to Lacrosse, Wisconsin with a friend once. I’ve only bicycled 100 miles in a day three times in my life, none on this Central American trip.

Q: Would you have done this trip alone?

A: Before going, I would’ve been hesitant. Not from a safety standpoint, but the joy of having a shared experience with someone is one of the strongest unifiers we have in this world. Today, I would say “yes” because the trip was truly that amazing.

Q: Did you ever question your decision?

A: I never questioned taking the trip, but I was questioning how life was going to move on without me while gone. What would change? I turned down a job to go. I moved out of my apartment and purchased a bike. So, I was committed.

Q: What was your greatest fear before leaving ND?

A: Will the deep love my girlfriend and I share endure? The fear was unnecessary. We grew stronger. She found tons of new passions in my absence and it made hearing her voice and seeing her in person that much sweeter.

aloneQ: What type of bike did you ride?

A: A Surly Long Haul Trucker made 5 miles from my house in Bloomington, MN with waterproof paniers. It treated me so well; the thing is nearly bomb-proof. I should’ve done more research on tires; the final 870 miles were much easier on Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tires.

Q: How did you train physically?

A: We didn’t train at all. The body is an amazing thing. I saw firsthand how adaptable both the body and mind are. Almost every blog we read before going said not to train, “Your legs will show up eventually.”

boyQ: How did you prepare financially?

A: We estimated monthly expenses to be $300-$500, living frugally by cooking our own meals and camping most of the time. Turns out things were less expensive. Near the end, we were eating out two meals daily because the food was good and cheap. Plus, we got to interact with locals. We didn’t take odd jobs. Instead, we had a pact to help when needed. For instance, we offered water to a stranger for his stranded vehicle’s radiator. I gave a kid a pair of biking gloves after seeing his calloused hands. I also helped raise a rafter for a Nicaraguan family with whom I stayed.

Q: How did you prepare mentally and emotionally?

A: I made a conscious decision to succeed on this journey by slowing down, relaxing, and letting the world come to me. With that mindset I didn’t need to prepare much mentally. Emotionally was a whole different story. It was stressful and sad during the final days before leaving. My apartment kept getting emptier. I also realized I wouldn’t see my girlfriend until her summer visit. I leaned on her, family and friends to help me move and keep my possessions until I returned.

Route Map
Route Map

Q: What sort of advance planning did you do?

A: Preparing the bike, picking out essentials and getting the life I was leaving behind in order were the most crucial elements of planning. After boarding the bus from Bismarck to Tucson, Arizona in January, very few decisions required much thought. Things were simple. I chose a quality person to travel with, had a great bike and mapped out the first few days. My advice for others is that the road will look quite different from what you imagine. You’ll start to meet a huge cast of characters who will soon alter the course of your entire journey.

The Trip

Q: Talk about housing.

A: We knew hotel stays were limited to days we were sick, super tired or needed a shower or morale booster. Early on the best housing was free in the Mexican desert. Looking for a place to camp was one of the wildest parts of the trip.

Central American people are laid back, accommodating and, quite frankly, unfazed. If it was clear who the land owner was, we’d seek permission. If not, we’d camp and leave the place as we found it. A few times the land owner would show up, hang out with us, offer food or coffee and carry on. Most everyone thought what we were doing was cool. We were conscious about not using, or abusing, resources.

We did our best to help out with a chore in exchange. In El Salvador, I made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a host’s child. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a child’s eyes that big since.

Of course, in larger cities we used Couch Surfing or another form of radical and reciprocal hospitality for touring cyclists called Warm Showers.

Q: What did you miss most?

A: My girlfriend, but we could talk and text most days, making it easier. I also missed having a kitchen. We cooked great meals out in the bush with convenience store food, a camp stove and some ingenuity. For instance, I used the back of a Mexican license plate, found on the roadside, as a cutting board. As fun as the challenge of cooking was, it was a driving factor in getting a cabin for a month in Guatemala. It had a kitchen with a small fridge and some counter space, making it feel like Heaven.

Q: What scared you most on the journey?

A: Enjoying the road and never coming back. We met plenty of people who fell in love with a place, made it their home and never looked back. Another fear that didn’t come true for me.

Q: Describe your most memorable day.

A: After leaving the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlán, we rode up (Mexico has mountains.) for almost 90 days. In just one day, all of that elevation came back as we dropped 7000 feet. I’ve never felt so alive on a bicycle before. James, who was ahead of me, had a cold beer waiting for me at a small store that was hugging the road to the deep valley below.

Normally, I’d have been accepting of the gift. However, earlier that month an ATM ate my debit card. I was near penniless. Yet, we sat there celebrating the downhill by drinking two Tecate beers-30 to 40% of our current net worth.

That night we ate two boxes of cereal at the bottom of the hill because there was no ATM in the town or even restaurants open when we arrived.We went to bed emotionally full by the day’s happenings, but hungry.

Q: Describe a site you will always remember.

Cascada Chiflon
Cascada Chiflon

A: I will remember all the sights as I looked outside my tent door thinking, “How on earth did I get here? I’ll never be here again in my lifetime.” One particular stand-out place is Cascada El Chiflon both because of the beauty and the date we visited. It coincided with Prince’s death on April 21, 2016. As a Minneapolis resident and Prince fan, I received numerous messages as James and I started our ascent to the waterfalls. All of the flowers we saw on the hike were purple, so it appeared Prince was everywhere. As a Minnesotan, one will always remember where he was when Prince died.

Lessons Learned

Q: What did you learn about the people of the world?

A: People aren’t “out to get you.” And, nothing brings people together like a good meal. We’d seen State Department travel warnings for the region and had an awareness of crimes reported. But overall, most people are good.

Q: What was the #1 lesson you learned about yourself?

A: Clearly that I rush things too much. The best days were when we took it slow and made time to sit on storefront benches and observe the community.

Q: What have you learned you can live without?

A: The arrogance and consumption of first world countries. I not only survived but flourished 5 months riding a non-motorized vehicle with 4 attached bags. Stuff is just stuff. Sometimes stuff gets in the way of real living.

Back in the USA

Q: Why did you come back?

bicycleA: The beauty of travel is the opportunities it affords you. When you are no longer gracious for that opportunity, it’s time to call it quits. When I crossed the 3106-mile mark and a few days after leaving Ometepe Island in Nicaragua, I biked an entire day without taking in my surroundings. I was just focused on getting to Costa Rica. Then, I knew my gratitude toward the road was slipping away. I returned to the USA one week later.

Q: Describe the transition back to American culture.

A: It was harder than I ever imagined. Deplaning in Baltimore, Maryland I spoke to gate agents in Spanish until they looked at me strangely. Everything seemed so new and shiny. Gone was the grit and broken-in feel of my surroundings just 24 hours ago. I spent a week looking for toilet paper disposals because in Central America one throws it in a can next to the toilet, not in it. I’m still delighting in drinking water from a tap. It’s a luxury I’ll never take for granted.

My girlfriend knew I’d struggle with the transition. She picked me up in a friend’s rickety 1997 rusted-out Dodge pick-up. I love her to death for that move!

Loss of complete autonomy of my life is the biggest hurdle I’m overcoming. I had 100% control of my schedule on the trip. Everything I did was to keep the bike moving forward.

Advice to Others

Q: Can you share some words of wisdom for others planning a similar trek?

A: Sure, I’ll list them:

  1. Be gracious.
  2. Never barter. You can afford it. (See #1.)
  3. Know the pleasantries in the country’s language. Knowing 10-20 words will go a long way. I was only moderately fluent in Spanish.
  4. Rainy season is no joke. 2pm is dry. 3pm will be pouring.
  5. Preparation is helpful, but not necessary. We saw people biking across Mexico with discount store backpacks zip tied to $200 bikes.
  6. You don’t need a lot of money.
  7. People are amazing and innovative
  8. All is possible, yet reminding yourself of that is the hardest part.

familyReflecting back on his trip, Robert would like to thank his parents for taking him on family trips and exposing him to what life was like for Americans living outside North Dakota. “Once I got a taste of that, there was no looking back.”

While he cherishes the experiences and memories of his adventure, Robert’s favorite place to be today is alongside his girlfriend in their cramped kitchen. No words are needed while floating around one another in the tight spaces while creating a vegetarian meal. His Central American adventures changed him and his approach to life. He’s eager, receptive and empathetic and he’d tell his younger self to relax and take some time for self-care.

What did you learn about travel and yourself from reading about Robert’s adventure?

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below. Would you have the courage to bike across foreign countries? Comment below.

 

©Copyright. September 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Dr. Hoiberg-50 Years- 3 Sons-Much Success

isuEric O. Hoiberg was the second person I met in Ames, Iowa after parking my loaded, four-door, silver Plymouth Fury. The residence hall director was the first. Eric was my student advisor. I was a seemingly lost transfer student alone in a new town on a campus with a student body nearing the population of my home state of North Dakota.

To this day I recall the feeling of optimism and assurance I had leaving his office that August afternoon. I sensed I’d graduate as a Cyclone. I believed I’d succeed in the so-called real world post-graduation. He left me with the impression he believed in me, so I did in myself.

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Iowa State University (ISU) under his guidance.

Eric

Dr. Eric O. Hoiberg-an inspirational figure.

Die-Hard Cyclone

Hoiberg is a dedicated, loyal Iowa State University Cyclone, except for the fact that he earned 3 degrees (BA, MA, and Ph.D) at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln (UNL).  He spent 21 years as a Sociology faculty member and advisor for and coordinator of the Public Service and Administration (PSA) program. Before retiring, he was promoted to, and spent 11 years as, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Agriculture. Hoiberg returned to ISU twice after retirement. Once to create an alumni program. Next as the Interim Associate Provost while a search was being conducted.

European Influence

Eric’s upbringing greatly influenced him. Born in Fayette, Missouri, he and his three older brothers and homemaker mother, accompanied his father to Germany directly after World War II during the Berlin Airlift. There his father, a rural sociologist, worked with the Reconstruction effort helping churches cope with the Holocaust and other ravages of war. The family returned to Europe several years later when his father directed a group establishing Turkey’s first Land Grant University. The family traveled extensively throughout the Muslim country, expanding Hoiberg’s view of the world. However, he also developed a deep appreciation for the lifestyle and subculture of farmers and small towns where many of his extended family members resided. This combination of academic readiness and world-wide vision made him an ideal university employee.

Researcher

His doctoral research at UNL was published in the esteemed American Sociological Review and centered on creating a new methodology for assessing neighborhood and community structure and change. A comprehensive survey of 700 Iowa farm families, which provided a baseline for the state of agriculture in Iowa in the 1970’s, was his first research venture at ISU. Eric also conducted research on farmers’ adoptions of new technologies and techniques, particularly environmental practices. And, he was part of a national research team that studied a series of six rural communities across the country, originally studied by the USDA in 1940. His team examined change over the roughly 50-year period.

Despite this nationally recognized research, Eric cites the growth of the PSA program as his most valued career accomplishment. “I took over the program in its infancy and grew it into a strong program attracting excellent students who went on to do some good in society.”

One of those students, Renny Olhava Crawford shared “I remember sitting in his class my sophomore year. By this time, I’d already changed my major 4 times. As I was listening to the lecture, all I could think was – I love this!  I need to talk to him and learn how I can get more into this. So, I found a reason to go arrange a meeting, some question on an assignment, I believe.  After “clearing” up my question, I just told him, “I really love everything we are going over in this class-how do I study more about this?” I think his response was “Well maybe you need to look into PSA”.  He told me more. That afternoon I changed my major-and probably my life.”

Fellow PSA graduate John Bahr added, “Eric is one of the three key male figures who influenced my life. His guidance and insight helped me graduate from Iowa State. As a result, I learned discipline and gained academic confidence, which helped me to achieve personal and professional success.”

These Kids Now Days

Eric’s attitude and approach while working with students earned him numerous advising and teaching awards. He felt responsible to place curriculum in context so students gain an appreciation for the why and wherefore of courses they’re required to take. “There must be a link between the curriculum and the world of work they’ll be entering.”

He enjoyed students stopping by after a lecture to discuss how ideas/examples in class applied in their own lives. “This kind of discussion invariably increased my own understanding of the topic and reinforced that education is truly a two-way street.” And, he was frustrated when students focused solely on grades and test scores rather than understanding and communicating subject matter and applying it to their lives. “Evaluation is an important part of the educational process, but it shouldn’t be the only one.”

Over time he saw 3 key indicators that predicted student success: One, leadership experience in high school. “If a student came to PSA with extensive FFA experience, I could almost guarantee they’d be successful upon graduation.” Two, strong communication skills, and Three, a love for learning, indicated by a high level of intellectual curiosity and exploration. Today’s students also need a sound grasp of technical skills.

Hoiberg FamilyHoiberg Family

In addition to guiding and advising countless ISU students, Eric and his wife, Karen, who just celebrated 50 years of marriage, raised three boys: Steve, Fred and Andrew. Today, they also enjoy the company of 8 grandchildren. “My greatest sense of pride comes from my children and grandchildren. I revel in their accomplishments, both big and small. They’re each unique in their own way but also integral parts of our family unit.” Fred, the wildly popular former ISU basketball player and coach, has struggled publicly with heart conditions. “His concerns have strengthened our family. We all recognize life is fragile and we should be thankful for the gifts we have.”

Eric and KarenOne of those gifts is time together in Northern Minnesota-Eric’s favorite getaway. Now fully retired, he and Karen enjoy the spontaneity of life while he’s tirelessly working on becoming a scratch golfer. “It doesn’t seem to be happening.”

Compassionate, Curious, Understanding-that’s my college Advisor-Eric O. Hoiberg.

Proud to know him and deeply grateful for his influence on my life.

Share with ISU Cyclones and others who know Professor Hoiberg.

Feel free to leave your comments for Eric below.

At an event honoring Dr. Eric O. Hoiberg during the Bacon Fest on the campus of Iowa State University on October 7, 2017. Still an inspiration and mentor to many, including me.

Linda Leier Thomason is a former CEO who writes freelance business and travel stories, along with feature articles. Her work experiences include a Fortune 500 corporation, federal government, entrepreneurship and small business. Find out more about Linda by clicking the “Meet Linda” tab above. Interested in working together? Complete this form below.

©Copyright. August 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.

1 Weekend of 8 Great Omaha Firsts

An Omaha Weekend to Remember

It was a weekend unlike any of the past 52. There was music, a toast, physical activity and a picnic. Also a hamburger, a priest and hail. And, shoes. Yes, disintegrating shoes.

This year I’ve committed to making time for more celebrations. Celebrating not just special occasions, but milestones. It’s not a New Year’s resolution. I’ve finally come to realize that joy matters. I’ve spent a lot of time working and ignoring milestones. Instead, I rushed to the next one without recognizing the success just achieved.

This past weekend our family experienced 8 firsts in Omaha. I understand it’s probably best to space these experiences out, but sometimes that’s just the way things work out. The difference was I actually lived in each of the moments. That’s a first too, probably the best first of the weekend!

Diana Ross

dianaI’m a Motown girl. Sure, I enjoy all types of music, but there’s something about Motown’s beats and melodies that resonate with my soul. When Ken asked if I’d like to attend our first Omaha concert by taking advantage of half-priced tickets to Diana Ross’s Friday night sold-out concert, my response was immediate and affirmative. “Of course, yes, thank you!” How could I possibly pass up the chance to be serenaded by the founding member and lead singer of the Supremes? The fact that’s she’s 72 was completely lost to my overwhelming desire to hear and sway to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Upside Down,” and 75 minutes of other recognizable hits.

All week we looked forward to sitting in downtown Omaha’s magnificent Orpheum Theater for the first time.  We were excited for our date night and wanted to be respectful of Diva Diana. Ken donned slacks with a long-sleeved, collared shirt and I wore a floor-length summertime dress with wedge heels. Until I didn’t.

Shoes

My first Omaha embarrassing moment happened when opening the car door and stepping onto the searing pavement. I felt a bit off-balance, but grabbed Ken’s hand to make our way across the street. He’s my rock. He centers me. However, the more steps we took, the more I felt like I was tipping over. This sensation isn’t that unusual with the scoliosis curves I carry. But when I looked down and saw a portion of my shredded right wedge heel on the sidewalk, I knew this was greater than spinal curves. Oh Dear! Cork was dropping with each step.

I had a choice to make: Carry on like nothing was happening, turn around and go home, or quickly try to find a shoe store. Without flinching, I chose the shoefirst. I’d go barefoot before missing a Diana Ross concert. By the time I got to the Orpheum restroom, the left shoe heel was also ¾ shredded. Sitting on the stool, I examined both shoes and laughed aloud at the timing of their implosion. Rarely do I wear heels; these expired before I did. I slipped the “flats” back on, exited the restroom, grabbed Ken’s hand and strutted up to our balcony seats. During this entire journey,  I only heard one person utter, “Well, that’s interesting!” Yup. It was.  Despite the shoe calamity, our first Omaha concert was fantastic.

Hamburger

dinkWe ate our first Dinker’s hamburgers on Saturday. Alex, our 21-year-old son who’s here for a summer internship, has been touting this landmark restaurant. Apparently several co-workers frequent the Polish neighborhood eatery and have been lobbying him to as well. Dinker’s didn’t disappoint. After placing orders at the counter, we bellied up to the bar and enjoyed cold beverages with mouth-watering burgers, fries and onion rings. [I had the kiddie burger-more than enough for me.] It felt great to patronize a local establishment with a long family owned history.

Homily

priestWe heard our first homily from newly ordained (June 4, 2016) Father Tobias “Toby” Letak at Saturday evening’s mass at St. James.  Now I know I’m old. Father looks like a kid. He is one. However, watching him say Mass and deliver his homily, I marveled at his deep faith and gift of communication. It will be a joy to support and watch him grow as a church leader and priest. What a great vocational role model for the youth as well.

Champagne Toast

toastSaturday was a year that we moved into our Omaha home. After Mass, I gathered the Thomason men, poured Sparkling Grape Cider into champagne flutes and then we lifted glasses in a toast of gratitude. If you’ve read any of our family’s journey getting to Omaha and into a home, you understand the sentiment behind the toast. It was needed and deserved. Here’s to many more memories in this home!

Hail

Our neighborhood received significant hail in May while we were traveling in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. We obviously didn’t hear or see the hail. The insurance adjuster and seven contractors who’ve been here declared our roof, gutters and window sashes totaled. We are experiencing our first hail claim and house repairs after living here less than a year. Sunday morning, we sat down and put contractor data, by variables, into a spreadsheet to determine who to hire. We are predictably analytical and thorough in our research. It’s who we are. We know this methodology doesn’t work for all, but it always has for us. Let the roofing and other repairs begin.

Basketball

bbSunday was 20 degrees cooler than the previous week where record-setting temperatures soared over 100 degrees. It was a bit much despite our heat and humidity conditioning from decades of living in the Deep South. Like most, we stayed mostly indoors last week. So Sunday, when it was cooler, we felt like escaped convicts and completely overdid it. First, Ken and I walked two miles at Standing Bear Lake. Next, we got Alex and, for the first time, used the basketball court at Hillsborough Park.

Recreational activities are something the three of us joyfully share together. In fact, in Alex’s youth, most Saturdays Ken took him to the grassy common area in the front of our Charleston, SC neighborhood with a trunk full of sporting equipment. It warmed my soul to see them bond while throwing, kicking and putting.  It’s not much different today with the exception of more competitiveness and ribbing. The togetherness and competition still warm my aging soul, though these activities are not as kind on my joints and bones.

Picnic

picnicGoing to our first parish picnic capped off an eventful weekend. Our previous experiences have mostly involved pot-luck events. Not here! A team grilled pork loins and hot dogs, some cooked potatoes and corn, while others deep-fried squash and onions. There also were cookies and melons. A DJ played background tunes, including many Diana Ross hits.  Kids enjoyed a variety of carnival-like games and inflatables. Adults were in the Parish Center playing Bingo in the air-conditioning while others were managing the cake walk outside the church entrance. It was a festive event and one we will return to, for certain.

A weekend is 48 hours. We experienced 8 firsts in Omaha during this time and each was memorable in its own way.

I lived each moment, making each experience more joyful. Another first worth repeating.

©Copyright. July 2016. Linda Leier Thomason

All Rights Reserved.