Think / Able - and Check out My Parkinson's Facebook Page

Think / Able - and Check out My Parkinson's Facebook Page
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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dreams Part 2: Hope + Dreams / Fear; 2 Opposing Sides of the Same Coin

            Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been imaginative. It’s who I am, and I like how it defines me. To this end, my ONE WORD (see Evan Carmichael’s book of the same name) is “DREAM.” It defines my goals of how I want to see things, how I write my novels (brainstorming heavily to the point my dream world characters are almost real), and pretty much how I live my life.
On the radio, we hear, “Life is but a dream,” “Be your teenage dream tonight,” “Dream until your dreams come true,” “You make my dreams come true,” “Sweet dreams are made of this; who am I to disagree,” “It was all a dream,” “That’s what dreams are made of,” and “Say you’ll see me again, even if it’s only in your wildest dreams,” among other things that talk about dreams and dreamscapes. After all, couldn’t just about half of Jimi Hendrix’s catalog be about some surrealist fantasy?
Dreams are everywhere we turn. Whether nocturnal, daydreams, or nightmares, dreams make up the basis for all that we are in straightforward or symbolic fashion. They guide us and provide insight into our world. I have no idea why many of mine are like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where I run in and out of bizarre-o places in my life with people who are in no way connected to each other, let alone the people in them, but such is my dream world.
In my wide awake world, I contemplate the dreams of other people and their reflections on dreams. For instance, “What happens to a dream deferred?” asks Langston Hughes who also tells us to “hold fast to dreams for when dreams go life is a barren field frozen in snow.”  I like that poem. It feels more positive than when he inspired A Raisin in the Sun.

Just like Obama’s hope, the future is based on making dreams real to achieve what we want for a better tomorrow. We need vision and possibility in a manner that is similar to Walt Disney saying, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I think that’s what makes a lot of our science fiction writers great (especially if they’re read by STEM kids who become unlimited potential adults).

As a toddler / preschooler who was consumed in his own dream world, I was described to my parents by a doctor as being someone who marches to the beat of his own drummer when they had worries about my socialization skills (I tended to be by myself a lot, which I still find comforting, though I find it easy to speak to large groups – thank you Air Force basic training punishments – and open up and be comfortable with my wife and some others). From an early age, I preferred to associate with things like Star Wars and the figures that came with, and as I got older, I found myself caught up in baseball statistics. I was never good at the game, but the numbers meant something to me. I could almost see them played out before me like some larger than life hero.

As I became an adult, my interests moved from music to literature, where I could better find ways to grasp life. For that matter, I still can find myself dreaming images of what I’ll see on a map. I know, I must be strange, but such is me. It’s part of the introspective creative mind I am. Here, this is much like Henry Miller, who once said, “Once in a great while I came across a being whom I felt I could give myself to completely. Alas, these beings existed only in books. They were worse than dead to me- they had never existed except in imagination. Ah, what dialogues I conducted with kindred, ghostly spirits! Soul searching colloquies of which not a line has ever been recorded. Indeed these “excriminations,” as I chose to style them, defied recording. They were carried on in a language that does not exist, a language so simple, so direct, so transparent, that words were useless. It was not a silent language either, as is often used in communications with “higher beings.”
Nevertheless, as I grow older, I do enjoy being around people and hearing what they have to say, especially when it comes to things that they have seen and expressions of life that they feel. I have met some inspiring people in my time, and I feel drawn to them. I would love to meet more people like this. Jack Kerouac wrote it best in On the Road, by typing out the words, “They rushed down the street together, digging everything in that early way that they had, which later became so much sadder and perceptive and blank. But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’" 
Other times that I am with people, I may be quiet because I’m not really good with the superficial except as related to things like music, hiking, baseball, movies, and seeing the world and its natural wonders. I often find it hard to enter into conversations without comparing situations to my experiences or interviewing people with lots of questions. Sure, I can wax intellectually on the news, but I really am starting to loathe that this ends up in political discussions (though I feel several brewing on the environment, education, and healthcare, but I digress and hold that one that I started writing until later). To this end, when I’m around true conservatives, I tend to feel moderate. When I’m around farther left liberals, I don’t relate at all. That said, I do have parts of me that understand and relate to the left and right. I guess I’m just Eugene O’Neill’s hairy ape.
It’s times like this that I compensate by enjoying me time. Either I’ll drift off in the wormhole (like Jodie Foster in Contact) or opt out of that world to go hiking. If I can’t do that, I tend to like to write (especially when I have the time to do that like I do today). Last night, I read a great article about drifting off into the woods for me time to take a dip in Nature. I really liked it, and I hope that in whatever way you, the reader can, you choose to enjoy time in unspoiled natural beauty as often as you can. It really does recharge our batteries (brains and souls).

On that note, currently, I have been spending as much time as possible (when I’m not grading student work or working to get ready to teach the coming units) in trying to finish up my 3rd or 4th book (depending on how you look at the 2-part Dead Mouths (named after a quote from Pablo Neruda – I’ve come to speak for your dead mouths”), which I finally finished and put on Amazon’s Create Space last October). This book, like my 600+ page Dead Mouths and my first book Eureka in Flames, are all part of a long series entitled Blackrock Canyon. Much of the book deals with the surreal and prophetic nature of dreams and how they predict horrific events that will occur in the recesses of a hidden canyon located around a Utah ranch, which contains many archaeological relics that are cursed by ancient tragedy. Over the past 2+ years, I have created an alternative universe populated by Tony Lucas, Colin Jameson, Bart Doherty, Dave+Charlotte Robinson, Suzie Heilman, Charles “Chuck” Jones, Abraham “Wolf” Owens, Marcus Powell, and a host of other people who are working to battle evil in its darkest forms. In many ways, the story is a mix of the first season of Heroes (normal people brought together to save the world – both through fate and natural law enforcement / military abilities and supernatural ones that they do and don’t understand), The Walking Dead (I love the character development of that show), and all of the television ghost, aliens, and monster shows, not to forget movies by people like M. Night Shyamalan.
You can read samples here.
My facebook writer's page is here.

When it comes to entertainment, I like the idea of suspense and supernatural entertainment. I also like action / adventure movies, but I will say I’m not a fan of gore or rooting for the bad guy like in Friday the 13th or something like that. I’d like to say I get why people like those movies, but I don’t really try to get it because gore and criminality is not my thing. In fact, I can say that in writing dastardly deeds of bad guys, I find that it’s a very heavy process that takes an emotional toll on me as a writer (I took a nearly one month siesta from writing after one such incident in Dead Mouths).  On that same note, I once walked out of my own living room when friends were over watching Scream. I don’t judge people who like the movies, because, well… I’m into watching shows like Monsters and Mysteries in America, Ancient Aliens, and A Haunting as well as visiting places and festivals associated with these things (yes, I’ve been to the Mothman Festival in West Virginia). It should be noted, though, that I tend to take things with a grain of salt, and enjoy them for the story, the archaeology, and the out of the ordinary element presented in them. It’s another place where education and imagination meet for entertainment.

With many of these shows, whether a movie like Signs (much better than The Sixth Sense, which was also good in my opinion) or cheesy TV horror like My Haunted House, there is a sense of fear that builds up in trying to escape from or fight back against what we don’t understand and can’t explain. There is also a sense of faith, which I feel is essential in all of these shows (whether it’s The Exorcist or Contact), and I like that, too. There’s no good without evil, but goodness can always win, which is definitely a good thing.
That said, when it comes to fear, I also really like Iron Maiden’s “Fear of the Dark,” with lyrics that express “the unknown troubles on your mind, maybe your mind is playing tricks, you sense, and suddenly eyes fix on dancing shadows from behind.”  I think that’s a fair expression of fear, whether it’s acrophobia, claustrophobia, mysophobia, or thanatophobia. If we look at the lists, there’s a fear of everything out there, whether it’s spiders, love, or being out of mobile phone contact, you can find any phobia on Wikipedia.
For those of us who have these fears, which are somewhat the opposite of dreams since they inhibit us from venturing into the “unknown” or “dangerous,” we know they’re “irrational.” We should use mind over matter to defeat them. We know this.
So then why do we still have them?

For myself, I find myself afraid of heights, which really freaks me out on some bridges or steep places like Great Falls of the Passaic in Paterson, New Jersey. That said, there are times I can push myself forward, and there are other times I can’t.
Nevertheless, as a person with Parkinson’s, I feel subjected to a whole new set of fears that I have come to find are truly “rational.” I don’t always “feel” them in a sense where I take them on board and think about them obsessively, but they always exist in my head.
“Where will I be in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?”
“Where will I be next year, for that matter?”
“Can I push through these rusty knees to make them move smoother over longer distances so that I can once again do double digit hikes?”
“Should I be worried about these symptoms I’m being asked if I experience or is this just standard protocol for everyone who gets this condition?”
“How often am I going to have weird symptoms like my upper left arm popping or my sciatica type pains, which are infrequent right now, but…?”
“If they come up with a cure, will my insurance cover it? Will it work for me? Is it too late to make progress forward, or am I always going to be ‘at least this way?’”
“How much will some people’s ethical / religious beliefs impact any chance for the benefits of stem cell research and treatment on people in America?”
“Would I ever be able to have the ways and means to take my chances on Mexican doctor options? Are these the best options for me or is this just wishful thinking?”
“If and when Obamacare gets replaced, will my state choose to get rid of pre-existing conditions coverage?”
“When the next election comes, will the next president undo much of the devastation of this administration’s policies on healthcare?”
“What type of burden will my condition and treatment play on my wife and family, both financially and emotionally?”

“If I’ve had symptoms since age 40 (2011), how fast will things progress now that I’m on Azilect and amantadine?”
“How long will I be able to keep hiking, writing, and being the ‘me’ that I know and am used to?”
“Will I ever get a chance to go and see some of the National Parks and Monuments of our country before I get too rough to hike distances or in the heat / my country removes their protection so that they become spoiled forever and ever?”

“Will someone with power over my future choose to discriminate against me in a way that impacts my future and that of my family?”
I’m sure that everyone reading this feels some impact from all of these questions that I ask now. I’m sure some of you are newer than me to the symptoms (though I’ve only been labeled since November 1st of last year) and you have newer concerns such as when will left hand go to left foot to head to right hand and off to right foot. I’m sure other people have answers to some of these questions to?”
“I know I’m not guaranteed to advance beyond certain stages, but what are the odds of people not advancing?”
“Are all these studies that are finding things really making headway?”
“Is anyone I’m educating and advocating to getting any use out of this?
“When will the movement freezing start?”
“What parts of my real life will be affected by / kiboshed by my medicines?”
“When will I need constant care and who will provide it to me (i.e. boy, I’m glad I didn’t have children for some reasons, but I might have been able to use their assistance)?”
“Does everyone who gets this have to go through Deep Brain Stimulation?”
“Why must so many people who know I have this condition (but who don’t have Parkinson’s) send me that cannabis treatment video? Do they think if it’s legalized medically, they’ll be able to get stoned, too?”
“When am I going to stop addressing myself as, “Hi I’m ____, and I have Parkinson’s. Here are some things you may notice. Please ignore them and love me for me’?”
“Am I required to buy Back to the Future on DVD now?”
I can’t answer many of the other questions except for myself, but I can tell you the answer to that last 1 is: “Only the first one. The others just don’t hold up as well.” To be honest, Michael J. Fox is awesome for all he's done for Parkinson's, whether you are a fan of Family Ties or Spin City or not. 
In the end, there’s really only one question that I can answer:
“Who is this person I’m looking at in the mirror and what happened to the other guy?”
The answer:
“It’s still the same old you, but you have a new normal now:
I am a husband to Heather
            I am a son to John and Essie
            I am a brother to Beth
            I am a nephew to Toot, Dave, Pat, Steve, and Deb
            I am Big D’s godfather
            I am Uncle Dan to over 20 different kids and adults in Pennsylvania and Ohio
            I am a cousin and all other kinds of family related tags
            I am a friend to some really great people who have listened to my story about this and been there in good times and rough days
            I’m a Berks County Boy living in Ephrata, smack dab in the middle of Amish Paradise
            I am a teacher / tutor who works hard to push people to be great while teaching them how to write well, and for this, I’ve seen some really great people I feel awesome about working with
            I am the proud product of a community college, which transformed my life
            I am a writer of ghost stories and outdoor tales
I may write ghost stories, but I believe in God and the power of true love
I went to a Catholic college whose teachers also influenced me
            I am a hiker who is active in hiking groups to include the Standing Stone Trail,which in my humble opinion is the best trail in Pennsylvania
            I am a photographer
            I love music from all genres, especially Polyphonic Spree and Neutral Milk Hotel
            I’m a baseball fan
            I served in the Air Force
            I like chocolate iced donuts, cheese steaks, and pizza more than I should
            I’m heavily influenced by stories of people overcoming hardship.
            I have a weird sense of humor
            I’d like to think I’m a good person, but I’ve done some knuckleheaded things that I wish I could undo, too
            The Stockdale Paradox is my defining code.

       You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Return to the Magical Land of Amantadine! (REVISED - April 2018)

           Like many medicines, Amantadine (which sounds like the name of a magical kingdom like Narnia or almost anything out of Star Wars, Avatar, or the Lord of the Rings) was originally created to treat influenza, but it was found to be a very helpful product for Parkinson’s. While that makes it very lucrative and pricey in non-generic form, like all medicines, it’s definitely not the cash cow that the blood pressure medicine sildenafil was when it was revealed that it also treats erectile dysfunction. As a result it became Viagra. For those not in the know (and I googled this just now to find an accurate price), Viagra is about $60 a pill! As with any other med, when a person needs it, he or she pays the price or goes without it in this capitalistic world. Fortunately for those needing it, news also shows it will be available in December as a generic medicine (2 years early), though with only one company making the generic, it won't be that much cheaper (once again, capitalism and the Law of Supply and Demand). That said, for those getting generic sildenafil, that came out at $20+for a 30 pill prescription that wouldn’t be honored if the doctor prescribed Viagra.

            So yes, in life and in research, we learn (and I teach) that all actions have a reaction. Sometimes, it’s a good reaction. We clean up pollution, and wildlife is able to flourish in that area again. I donate $25 to a cause, and that cause can do something with it for the positive (hopefully and ideally). However, there are side effects to any reaction. For instance, I take the trash to a landfill, and that trash collection site becomes a less viable world (a necessary evil - unlike Trump stripping UNESCO biospehere reserve tags from beautiful places and trying to eliminate National Monument protection from other sites, but I digress). I give $25 to 1 cause, say the Ice Bucket Challenge, and that money might have went to something else. Maybe I won’t be able to do dinner at McDonald’s and an overpriced summer blockbuster, or it will take away charitable funds for other conditions that I would have donated to in years past. I’ll live without the food, but what will happen to other charities if they don’t create fads that wrack in big bucks (and the Ice Bucket Challenge raised $115 million the first year, but just a little over $1 million when it wasn’t “cool” to post videos anymore). No knock on what they did, which was initially brilliant since it worked to find a cure to a devastating disease that has harmed and destroyed countless lives (victims, families, friends) since well before Lou Gehrig gavethe disease of ALS an easier to remember name.

            Bill James, who is a Sabrmetrics guru (see Moneyball, the movie with Brad Pitt based on the book by Michael Lewis - though it only mentions James once at the end), wrote in his giant baseball book of baseball statistics (Historical Baseball Abstract) that when we look at statistics and facts (as applied to baseball), we need to see:

      1) what is missing from the picture?
      2) what is distorted here, and what is accurately portrayed?
      3) How can we include what has been left out?
      4) How can we correct what has been distorted?

There is also a follow-up part, where I ask:

What good things come from these reactions?
Why are the reactions caused?
What side effects do the reactions create?
How can the bad reactions be prevented?
Are there further ramifications of the reactions?

I think about this now as I experience my own effects with Amantadine. For instance, on a good note, my hand doesn’t tremor as much (nor does my left foot, though the right one is almost always tapping in restlessness). It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

However, there are a series of side effects that it does cause. One of these is nausea. While it’s not sickness for me, it means I don’t feel like eating as much or as often. Right now, this is A-OK with me because I consumed enough calories since returning from my time England on July 8, 1996, to cover me until next year, so half rations means I might actually have a chance to get into some of those old pants I’ve been saving because I’m not giving up hope that I’ll be able to get into them again.

The big side effect that hits me is the lack of sleep I’ve been getting as compared to what I had been getting. For example, I would sleep 10+ hours and still feel tired (writer's note April 19, 2018 - that could also have been from my sleep apnea). Now, it’s a fight to get to 7-8 hours. I feel wide awake when I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and I’m not able to fall asleep on a dime when I return to bed, which leads me to wonder if I’ll be awake all night. That said, when I finally am tired enough to go to bed, I have no problem sleeping. Not that I know what traditional insomnia is, but I am usually up until 11PM / midnight, and then I wake up about 5-6AM and try to stay asleep until 7-8AM. I’m taking this as a good thing for now because I don’t feel tired enough to nap in the afternoons. I also should say that I'm lucky since I don't feel any of the other side effects with it (you can see the whole list here, but they include light-headed-ness, ankle swelling, hallucinations, and a rare purple color on the legs).

On the note of being lightheaded, I will speculate that Parkinson's is also why I can't be on a decline (with my head lower than my body), though I have none of the weird feelings just going from sitting to standing or standing to laying down that some people have. That said, I'm not sure if it explains why I sometimes can't ride as a passenger in a car without feeling motion sick (though I have no problem as a driver - I guess I'm just weird). 

As for Parkinson’s itself, I can’t say much of what’s changed about me other than rusty knees, dystonia, and bradykinesia effects I've blogged on, though I’m always asked by the doctor about memory, and I always say the same thing: I feel sharp and on with my thoughts. I still type quickly, and I am responsive with replies and connections. Knowing that about me makes me happy, though it does cause me to feel concerned and sympathetic to those who aren't at that point anymore in the stages of their disease. 

I will also say I do feel more energized with the Amantadine (no desire for afternoon siestas). I have been doing rails to trails walks lately (and will today). Though they aren't long walks in wooded places, they're still exercise. Fairly soon, I'll do one today to get the knees loosened up again. The key is to not let the voices in my head make me stagnate (easier said than done sometimes).

I'm also always asked by my doctor about vivid dreams, which I have to say has always been the norm in my life. I've written before about how I love the idea of dreaming, be it during the day for novels or travel or at night to see what kind of a show I get. I'm fascinated by dreams, and since they're not scary, even though my books are about the supernatural, I'm OK with that.

That said, when it comes to Parkinson's effects, I definitely feel the afternoon heat more than I did before. Nevertheless, some of that’s easy to combat by hauling water with or staying in the shade. Besides, if I need to, I can always grade stuff or work on my writing in the afternoons (something I’ve been doing lately, which is why I haven’t been blogging – almost done with the first draft of The Rules of the Game!).

So to all of you fighting the good fight, here’s hoping you feel good and that you have worked around your effects and side effects to enjoy your lives! Happy summer 2017!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Doctor Visits / Amantadine / Life is Better with Our Support Teams at Home - Big Love to All of 'em!!!

            On Monday, my wife and I attended my latest routine appointment in a continuing saga of appointments for my Parkinson’s disease. Essentially, we knew what was coming, but we didn’t know the name. In this case, the name of my new medication is Amantadine, which sounds like a proper name for one of the manymoons that orbit Jupiter (at the current time, this number is 53 confirmed with 14 more waiting for an official designation as something other than letters and numbers).
            What Amantadine does for me is it makes my body less rigid and improves my shakes. The effects will take a week or 2 to set in, so I’ll see what they do for my left claw hand and my left dystoniafoot. Hopefully, they can keep me from making my trail names Shakes the Hiker, too. I’m feeling optimistic about it. So far, I’ve had no side effects, which is a good thing. After I took Azilect for the first time, I felt it in my eyes as I seemed to be more sensitive to brightness, but after that, I felt nothing.
            Thus, I add a new medication to the new normal.
            As for the rest of the appointment, I did terribly at coordinated front and back foot tapping. Just like when I went to tap my foot and play drums at the same time (3rd or 4th grade) and I fell over backward, my life wasn’t meant for doing too many things at once. In the same way, I couldn’t really do the tongue stick out test since I’m not Gene Simmons and because I had to have my tongue clipped when I was younger so that I could properly speak certain words.

            Yep, I’m a walking calamity, but I hope that my strut down the catwalk to see my gait impressed him (when I do my little turn on the catwalk...).

            In the end, we walked out with an audiology appointment and a promise for a return visit in 6 weeks to see how the medicine is working.
            Fairly routine, huh?
            Well, there were certain subtle things popping up in the undertone of the conversation. These included losing weight and getting healthier. And yes, I know... I know... I know... hence the walking / hiking program I'm currently on and discussion about the dangers of overheating and dehydration (see last week's post on that). In addition, my doc's discussion included a statement about buying me another 6-12 months in the condition’s progression. Personally, anything I can do to not have to do Deep Brain Stimulation until I have to is a good thing. When the time comes, I’ll be ready. I hear so many stories of success and positive attitudes about it, how can I not be? Personally, my favorite is Perky Parkie’s “What if I Was a Superheroine?” blog post, but yeah… I digress. Surgery and looking around for more conditions that could be wrong with me aren't high on my list of things I want to do.

            I’ve seen the video (and you can, too, since it's up above). It’s amazing what technology and modern medicine can do. That said, it stinks what conditions and illness and life can do, and for this, I’m thankful for the brilliant STEM minds out there who use their big ol' brains to keep my brain safe. There are a lot of people out there who want to doubt them or put big in front of whatever noun that they can utilize for their situation, but for me, I believe in them because it's clear that they have a plan to make me better.
            I'm also thankful for my number one support system, which is my wife and family as a whole. My family is always there wondering how I am, and my wife is with me at the doctor's, advocating and explaining what she sees to get me the best help she can. There's times I think she catches more of my new normal than I do! That said, I'm glad to have her on my side. She's a tough cookie (and an awesome person - my favorite, in fact!) 

            There’s not enough love for the caregivers who laugh and cry and stay strong with us. Oh, there’s tons of love and appreciation, but they deserve Brewster’s Millions win the game / not just play the game more.

            For this, I’m not going to write a ton tonight. Instead, I’ll just say that if you have someone you love or who loves you, male, female, family, friend, significant other, spouse, or you have anyone who cares enough to ask how you are, don’t get defensive. Just thank them with the most respect in the appropriate level way (in this, you probably don’t want to give your co-workers a big sloppy kiss or something; then again, maybe you do!).

            And for this, I thank all of my family and friends for keeping me upbeat. From the bottom of my heart… YOU ROCK!
            Whether it's a phone call to my family or quiet time at home with my wife or enjoyable getaway time like our time in the Hudson Valley this weekend grading sculptures at Storm King Art Center, life is better with her (and them)! Really. While the future is uncertain, the now is filled with a lot of happiness and love and emotional closeness. I'd be lost without Heather. She's my bestest bestest (for realsies!) 

            And while I (and many of us) don't always say how much we value them and appreciate their help, we should because even though our loved ones don't know our journey, we don't know theirs, and frankly, that doesn't seem like a fun trip to take.

Congratulations on graduating high school, Kaydee Keim!!

       This past weekend, Kaydee, who is one of 22 nieces, nephews (of regular and great variety) on my wife's side of the family, graduated high school in Fremont, Ohio. Her future looks bright and both my wife and I wish her well in all of her dreams and future successes (as well as her brothers (pictured) who will also be graduating soon)!
        Here's hoping that college and adult life is an exciting journey for you!

Congratulations on Graduating the Police Academy, Evan Bigler

          Congratulations to Evan Bigler who will be graduating from the police academy this week. Lots of luck in the future! Here's hoping the dream police job comes to you soon so that you can make a difference out there in the world while protecting society and keeping the peace.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Beacon Conference Victory Thoughts - Congratulations Ashley!

            I’ve been in the teaching game for 16.5 years if you count my time in student teaching, which I do since I assigned grades to students during the winter and spring of 2001. Over that time, I’ve met a lot of great students. I’d try to list them all here, but inevitably, I’d forget someone, and since I don’t want to do that, I’ll just thank everyone out there who influenced me to be a better teacher or who convinced me that I had something to offer to students by offering me kind words of appreciation. Your influence in my life means more than you will ever know.
            It’s been a long ride. Some teaching days were and are better than others, but in the end, those of us who teach feel a calling to do so. In many ways, this is about giving back as were given to in the course of our educational journey. Here, too, I could thank a lot of teachers at both Reading Area Community College and Alvernia University in an individual way, but I don't want to leave people out, so I'll thank all of them collectively (as well as co-workers and bosses).
            Recently, I had the opportunity to give back in a huge way, when I sponsored my honor student / independent study student Ashley for her Beacon Conference paper. In late April, we found out that her paper was one of the top 3 papers, which would be invited to present against other 2-year college students from New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.

            After much work and discussion to prepare for all of this, my wife Heather and I went up to SUNY Orange in Middletown, New York (Hudson Valley) to join Team Ashley (she took her husband Wesley up there for moral support as well). On Friday at 1:30, she presented her paper Educating Girls to Eradicate Extreme Poverty. With 20 minutes to present, we talked about how to provide information to express the persuasive nature of the paper, and what we came out with was something spectacular.

            I knew where the beginning was going as it detailed the true life story of a very young girl who Ashley befriended when she did her own missions work in Guatemala. It was a very even keel speech, detailing the friendship of a young nurse with a child she influenced. As a big sister, she looked after the girl while providing her hope and values as well as the idea that she could be anything she wanted in life. Unfortunately, at 14, the girl was married to a much older man, despite Ashley's protests and redirections.

            Since there was nothing she could do to stop this tragedy, the ramifications of this incident broke Ashley’s heart, but it wasn’t the end for the girl’s life. That would come 2 years later at age 16, when she was viciously murdered (beheaded and gutted). Told in a matter of fact and exact way, this “heart-wrenching” event tore at the fiber of everyone. I knew what was coming, and I still cried.
            The rest of the paper went on from there. As a means to a PURPOSE (one word defines everyone’s life, according to writer, videographer, and entrepreneur Evan Carmichael; the key is to find yours), this event brought meaning to her destiny through her GENUINE nature through COMPASSION and DRIVE. With FAITH, she spoke to the audience about why teaching young girls in the developing world offers hope and possibility. She shows how simple education, even only on a first grade level, can change lives.
            As a true freshman with limited public speaking experience, she wasn’t as polished and "professional" as her main competitor (the difference was slight, but he went TED talks and shined), but she made up for this in responding to the questions. When asked “devil’s advocate” style if she thought this could make a difference in the world, she responded, “I’d like to try.”
            Best answer of the day.
            Listening to the judge’s comments 2 hours later, it was clear that he was truly impressed since hers was the longest compliment and the best paper of the bunch!

            As a proud coach waiting for the verdict, all I could do was give her a high five and tell her, “You’re awesome!” as we walked up to both get our certificates.
            When it was over, the 4 of us conferred to the achievement and how she didn’t believe it.
            “It was that good.”
            It’s now 3 days later, and there’s still a sense of awesomeness in her achievement. Both in exemplifying her learning experience and validating my mentoring, this moment just feels like “we did it!”
            Here’s to the good things in life!

            Some of Ashley’s mission work stories are here. I encourage you to read and follow her work.

      My story of how I became a teacher is here.