On Dancing

A long time ago, I began writing. I wrote in a sort of journal-esque manner whenever the mood struck me. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, I was usually drawn to writing when I was feeling down. I scratched angry words. I painted poems of sadness. The words, always punctuated with a deep loneliness, flowed from my pen with such ease. I became a master of describing the sadness, the fear, the anxiety, and the isolation that ran rampant through me.

And then one day, I realized that I had painted myself into a corner. Or rather, I’d written myself into a box. I love writing. I love creating. I love telling stories and I love sharing myself with the world. But, I had gotten so good at writing about sad things that I was a complete novice with ZERO practice writing about the beautiful things in life (and there are so many!). Like the cartoon-figured muscle man who always misses leg day at the gym, the biceps of my depressed writing had overgrown the weak little legs of my writings of beauty, gratitude, wonder, discovery.

And worst of all, I realized that the evolution of my writing reflected the evolution of my own thoughts about life. I realized that I took great care in my head to explore, uproot, and analyze my sadness, anger, grief. But, I spent very little time discovering the essence of my happiness. I gave a cursory nod and faint smile to the sound of my children laughing, the warm embrace of my husband after a long day, the wonder of sunrises over the mountains. You get the picture.

If you consider the dance of life to be that of a pair of lovers, and the play between them is a discovery and display of their dependence and their devotion. They need each other. They want each other. The lovers are Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment. (They should really have sexier names like Sophia and Marlon, but they don’t.) Who leads? Who follows?

My lovers have fallen into a sort of unbalanced, aggressive, nearly abusive dance. Relentless Pursuit of a Better Life (that’s his full name) has forced the dance. Step here, pull there, dip, slide, step. “Me not you”, he says. And Supreme Contentment yearns to linger a bit longer in the embrace, to drape her hair and add a little swivel to her step.

When Travis and I were first dating, he wanted so badly to teach me to dance. We attended classes and practiced at home. The biggest challenge was that I insisted on leading. (Yes, I didn’t know the steps very well, but he didn’t seem to have an ear for the rhythm of the music… sheesh!) One day he told me, quite bluntly, that this dancing business will only work if I allowed him to take the lead. I was offended in a sort of feminist way. Why on earth did that make any sense for HIM to lead? Can’t we BOTH just drive forward together. Can’t we both just demand from each other and ourselves the Relentless Pursuit of a Better Dance?

When we were both driving forward, our dance became more of a mission and less of a celebration. When Travis led and I surrendered to Spaghetti Arms (remember Dirty Dancing?), the dance was his dance and I was a wilted piece of lettuce. But when I allowed Travis to lead, to pursue the next step and to choreograph, my work then was to add the flair. To swing my hips and flounce my hair with each turn and dip was my role. Without me, the dance was rigid. Without his lead, the dance lacked structure and courage. It is his determination and my damn-hot booty bumps that make our dances beautiful and full of love. For years we’ve curated our dance – on and off of the dance floor.

You see how this can happen with our thoughts, actions; and, how it’s happened with my writing. The more that I drive forward to improve, the more focus there is on what is bad. When I allow for gratitude, wonder, and love to have a voice and a place, the balance of Relentless Pursuit and Supreme Contentment dance like the impassioned lovers they are, driving forward and always taking time to throw their heads back in laughter.

So what did I do to change this dance?

First, I write. I write first everyday. I wake up when the house is still sleeping, I pour a cup of coffee and I write. I don’t craft. I don’t pay attention to punctuation or sentence structure or anything other than getting words from my head onto the paper. Julia Cameron in The Artists Way calls this practice Morning Pages. And it helps me blow the dust off of my brain so I can approach the day from a fresh perspective.

Second, I practice. Rather, I am practicing. I make a conscious effort to see the pretty stuff. I take time (even a few seconds!) to remind myself how delicious coffee tastes with the perfect amount of cream, how funny Joe is when he’s describing his day, the richness in the color of my sister’s ginger hair, how soft and quiet the snowy scene appears when looking out my window. I’m taking time to stop and smell the roses, as they say.

Lastly and most importantly, I’m telling YOU all of this. Sharing with you the Truth of Me has been the single most important practice for learning to appreciate what a beautiful life I live. When I describe to you what I feel and think and why reminds me that although my sadness and loneliness has been better documented, my happiness and love is just as big and just as important.

So, I sign off with a commitment to you. I promise to explore and document my happiness. And I promise to share it with you.

Love, Kisa

#womensequalityday

I’m a lucky girl to have so many amazing women in my life. What usually leaves me both speechless and smiling ear to ear is this:
Every woman I know is working very diligently in her own way to make life a little better. 
We may disagree on the “how”. We may work in different ways, at different speeds, and with different results. But we work.
We work to open opportunities for women that were previously denied. We work to improve education for girls we’ve never met. We work for pay that adequately represents our contribution. We work for access to health care. We work for the right to have a say in our governments. We work for freedom to wear whatever the hell we want to wear.
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Most of the time, the work that I see women doing is actually very, very personal. It’s work that no one can really see while it’s happening. There are no big demonstrations or public campaigns. There are no commercials or news reports.
Most of the time, the work that we do is in our own thinking. And the actions that come about from that thinking.
And while no one may notice today, over time the world will notice. Because each microscopic change we make in how we view ourselves in the world, how we interact with others, how we think about challenge and celebrate success – they all add up to large, sweeping shifts in the human condition.
Look around. Women are working diligently every where to make life better for themselves and the rest of us. We don’t all do it the same, but we do it.
#womensequalityday

By Request! The Nitty Gritty Details of How to Do It All

Wow! The response from my post on Saturday was a wee bit more than I expected. I’m happy (and a bit surprised!) to know people are reading AND responding. Thank you for asking your questions. Everything I said in that post is TRUE. 100% true. That’s the mantra that marches through my head. But… there is a little more to the story of how I do it all.

It’s tough. It’s not for the faint at heart. But it’s possible. And I promise that just going through this process of meeting the challenge has helped me grow in so many ways.

Let’s get practical.

Here are a few of my tried-and-true Big Picture Tips for How to Do It All:Decide What’s Important

IMG_1567My top priorities are (not in any particular order): my health, my kids, my
husband, my family, and my tribe. When I schedule my week – this is an activity that I do EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT! – I always schedule these priorities first. Time to workout, time to make dinner, time to do laundry, time to play games, time to make connections with people, etc. Sometimes there are some things that just don’t make the weekly schedule because my priorities are going to take up more time than I have.

And yes, I work full-time. In fact, on average I log over 50 hours of “work” in a week! That was time spent teaching, coaching, crunching numbers, creating presentations, meeting with realtors and bankers, updating social media, professional development, writing notes to students, and more. I use quotes around the word “work” because I love what I do. Time flies when you’re having fun!

Remember too that MY HEALTH is on that list. I sleep. I eat. I take a lavender and Epsom salt bath every night. I admit that often the priority that slips through the cracks is my marriage. At the end of most days, I start snoring within seconds of hitting the pillow. Time with my husband to cuddle up, talk about our days, or have sex often slips through the cracks. This ALWAYS causes friction in my life. It’s no different than skipping workouts. So, I make it a point to take time to spend with him.

My point is that you have to know yourself. Know what’s important and know what’s critical (there’s a difference). Then, plan accordingly.

  1. Plan for the Big Picture, but Always Have a Plan!

My parenting mentor and our pediatrician, Dr. Lisa Morrison, gave me solid advice for life when explaining how to approach my kids’ nutrition. She said, “Don’t worry about 24-hr cycles or even each meal. Think about the whole week.”

Living out a perfectly planned day is like suffering through a boring, mid-western meal of IMG_2913mystery meat, boiled potatoes, and canned vegetables… every DAMN day. Ugh. I can’t handle that. Not only is it difficult, it’s BORING! And it’s hard. Salad with pizza? Just eat pizza! Did they eat all of their greens? Seriously. NO THANK YOU! Sometimes you need to eat cherry pie for breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.

If left to my own devices though, I would eat chips and salsa or cherry pie for every meal. (This is not advisable, although it is a good description of my college years.) Now as an adult, I plan. I plan meals. I plan work projects. I plan back-to-school shopping (in chunks… I can’t handle it all at once with all four in tow!). I plan holidays. I don’t plan everything but I do plan the things that matter.

Plan for the big picture. Over the course of the week, make sure that you are addressing your priorities. Not everyday. Just over the course of the week. Or two weeks. Or the month. Let go of your perfectionism and your laziness. Both are damaging.

  1. No Excuses.

Be honest.

If you mess up, fess up.IMG_2217

Do better next time, but don’t make excuses. And understand that mistakes just reveal our speed bumps and little cracks in the pavement. Likewise, don’t sign up for things you don’t want to do. If you don’t want to go hiking, don’t go hiking. Just tell your friends that you’d rather take a bath, or get a pedicure, or wash your wounds in rubbing alcohol before you would ever step foot on a “trail”. Ugh. Just be honest with the world. Mostly, be honest with yourself.

I hate hiking, by the way. Send me your pictures, because I probably won’t see it myself.

  1. Learn to Let Go.

I hesitate to use this over-used and often misunderstood “Life Rule”. But, the truth is that it is TRUTH. I think the yogis describe it best as Abhyasa and Vairagya. Look it up if you are interested. Abhyasa means Practice and Vairagya means Non-Attachment. My Western Kansas translation is to think of it as the balance of “Never Give Up” and “Always Let Go”.

Consider this. Life is like floating a river. Sometimes, you can just float. Your butt is wedged in the middle of the tube, an ice-cold beer in hand. Sometimes you hold on and ride the rapids. Sometimes when the river is slow, you meander to the side and grab hold of some grass, dip your head back and get your hair wet. If you try to do all of those things at once, you will FAIL. You might even drown! You can’t hold onto the grass on the bank with rapids crashing over your head any more than you can keep your morning workout routine when you have to catch at flight at 5:40AM!

Learn to let go. Learn to roll with the punches. Look at the big picture!

  1. Have Fun.

Everyday. Just do it. Laugh, dance, play, make jokes with the bag boy at the grocery store,
send your BFF funny memes, and when your kids complain about chores… make whiny
impersonations and then tell them, “It sucks to suck!”

I’ll be honest. I don’t know that #5 creates more time for me to do what I want to do in a day. But I know that it always lightens the load and the mood. I am more effective when I’m happy. I’m better at letting go and I’m more creative in my problem-solving. And is it a waste of time to make people smile? No! Smiling and laughter is ALWAYS worth the two seconds it costs you.
All of that said, here are some of my MUST-DO’s:

  • Plan your week. Look at your priorities and figure out when you are going to schedule each of them. Be realistic and be willing to make changes but keep your priorities as the guiding light.
  • Review everyday at the end of everyday and plan for tomorrow.
  • Speaking of tomorrow… set up the coffee (on a timer!), lay out your clothes, pack your bag, and get everything ready for the morning so you can hit the ground running!IMG_1597
  • Adopt a system for getting shit done. I’ve used Franklin Covey’s system (loved it!), Apple’s Reminders, and good ol’ fashioned paper. Currently, I use Todoist and I have to say that it is the BEST system I’ve ever used – easy to schedule, prioritize, and share tasks.
  • Where you can, assign (and pay) others to do the things that are important to you to have completed, but that you don’t necessarily need to do yourself. My general modus operandi is to do everything that’s important on my own first until I understand how and why I want it done. Then I farm it out – sometimes to staff, sometimes to my children. Child labor is my favored route.
  • Recruit! The most important priorities in your life should also be your #1 fans. Your kids, your partner, your team, your health… all parties should be on board for this journey.
  • Talk to someone. See a therapist. Someone to help you think through things. I’ve found that today’s problems ALWAYS have roots in my past. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not advising to wallow in your childhood. But, a trained therapist can help you sort through the parts of life that you’ve stuffed down, ignored, avoided, or skimmed over. In the words of a wise friend, “Wherever you go, there you are.” If you find yourself hitting the same damn wall, feeling the same feelings of anger, frustration, shame, or pain, then that’s something that needs attention. Take care of it. I promise your life will be better.

I don’t know that I have any more to offer. Those of you asking for the details, there you go. It’s hard. It’s rewarding. It’s frustrating. It’s fun. It’s life.

Yup.

It’s life.

And I love it.

Cheers!

P.S. I’ll leave you with this. The most precious and critical moments of each day are those that I spend with my closest people.

Coffee with Stella from Hella on our recliners in the morning sun.

Conversations on the commute to and from Whitefish with Baby Joe.

History trivia and sports updates in the neurology office waiting rooms with Tedzilla.

Jokes and barbeque lessons with Little Rick.

And best of all are the late night vinyl and bourbon sessions with my husband, my best friend, my partner, my muse, my love, my sweet Travis.

Taking time and appreciating time with these people is my lifeblood. This time trumps any and every appointment or task on my list. More importantly, when I’m in these times, I’m fully in this time. I don’t text, check social media, answer email, make calls, daydream, or stew about what’s next. I’ve learned how to do this and I’m thankful I decided to figure it out. These moments make up the life that I love living.

 

What Are You Waiting For?

“How do you do it all?”

That is the number one question that people ask me. Hands down. I usually downplay my response. “Oh, you know. I just kinda put one foot in front of the other.” Or sometimes, I turn the question back on them, “I didn’t realize I had a choice? How could I not do it all?” All of the time, my first guttural, instinctive response is a big “Ha!” But seriously, what does that question even mean!??!

The truth is that the question most people are really asking is, “Why do you do so much?”

familyiseverythingMy four children who are now teenagers were born in the span of 3 ½ years. My husband and I are entrepreneurs. We own several businesses and a handful of residential and commercial properties. I am a dedicated student and teacher of yoga. I train in jiu jitsu and exercise regularly. I am an amazing cook and diligent housekeeper. I don’t like dirty toilets or unkept yards. I have a very large, amazing family that I keep in close touch with. I have a very involved social life and a travel schedule that will make your head spin. I read voraciously and write everyday.
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And I’m always looking for a new project.

Why?

Because I can. Because I want to. Because I’m called by a whisper that sometimes yells loudly in my head. Because everyday I engage with the people, activities, yoga poses, and ideas that tickle my interest – AND especially those that terrify me – is a day that I learn more about who I really am.

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Everyday I am challenged by a problem, time schedule, financial quandary, or teenage hormone-fueled drama is a day that I inch closer to the Real Essence of Me.

In my opinion, we don’t get better with the typical challenges of life. We get closer to our true nature. And every challenge, problem, weakness, shortcoming is just a speedbump or a crack in the road. Some of them take a little more thinking, a little more effort to traverse. But at the end of the day, there’s no choice. Keep going. Acknowledge your challenges. Use your strengths. Be bold. Keep going. Even better – bring it on!

So what’s my response to that initial question? How do I do it all? My response is a question.

What are YOU waiting for?

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A Break to End All Breaks

I planned for months that week of sun and sand, swimsuits and sundresses, rest and relaxation. Maybe it doesn’t sound relaxing to take a family vacation to Puerto Vallarta with four teenagers, but it was my dream. I wanted to dig my toes in the hot sand, paddle board in the ocean, and quench my thirst with pina coladas. beach babies

The process to unwind would take a few days. I knew this going into the vacation. And, I knew that I needed rest. So I was willing and prepared to go through the process of unwinding. Much like I teach my students in Savasana.

Ah yes, Savasana. It’s often misunderstood and commonly avoided. While most of us look forward to lying down and resting our bodies after an asana practice, few people are ever interested in actually practicing the pose. We pretend to let go, maybe we sleep or dance between the dreams and waking. Rarely do we practice Savasana. Much like we rarely ever take a vacation. A real vacation.  A vacation from schedules, checking in, problem-solving, doing, trying, winning, losing, feeling, thinking, being anything other than what is in front of us at that moment.

That was my intention for this vacation. Go somewhere and let go. Just do nothing. People gave us suggestions for where to go, what to do, what to see, where to eat. I never intended to do anything other than wake up, sit in the sand, and see what happens. Truly, I was looking for Savasana.
And let me tell you. Savasana is hard to do.

On the first day we arrived, we checked into the condo and slipped into swimsuits. The rooftop pool was already bustling with happy hour guests. They swam, chatted, and admired the setting sun. My husband found a chair, tipped his hat over his eyes and quickly fell asleep. The kids dove into the pool and began their endless game of Marco Polo. And me? I tried it all. First I sat, then I swam, then I laid on the warm tiles surrounding the pool. I listened to the birds, the surf, and the chatterings of the social hour. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. I began reading my book. I closed my book. The spiral of anxiety over what not to do was mounting.

This is just like Savasana, I thought. Great. This is going to be more difficult than I thought.

I’ve always thought it was cute when yoga teachers describe and teach Savasana. Admittedly, I’m no better at teaching the enigmatic posture. But, when I hear descriptions like, “Savasana is a time to let go. It’s a time to absorb the benefits of your practice. Savasana asks us to surrender completely our ego. Savasana is about letting go and being present. Let go of tension, thoughts, distractions, and memories…” Well, I have to chuckle a little. Is anyone actually doing it? Or rather, is anyone really not doing?

But there I was on Day 1 of a 7 day vacation in Mexico with my family. I had to figure it out.

In the words of BKS Iyengar, “By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.”

The next morning, I woke at 5AM in a panic. My jaw ached from clenching all night. My heart was racing. The sticky sea air was still cool. So, I began to practice. I breathed in and out. I softened my eyes, throat, and belly. I let go of the grip at the base of my skull. I relaxed my jaw. Or at least I tried to relax my jaw. I pulled in and let go of the thoughts that scattered in my mind. The kids. The bills. The coffee. Did we have any? The sand. Could I keep the condo clean? Let go. Let go. Let go. Just breathe. Breathe.

And I thought of my favorite Samuel Beckett quote:

“Try again.
Fail again.
No matter.
Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.”

The practice of relaxing, vacationing, being in Savasana went on for a few days. Okay, let’s be honest. I practiced vacationing the entire span of my trip. Some days I looked to the ocean to help me relax. Some days, the pina coladas did the trick. Mostly, I tried again and failed again and then failed better.  I can’t say that I ever really vacationed in the ideal sense. I tried.

On the last morning, I pulled out my journal and reflected on the week. What happened, what did I learn, did I experience any marked transformation of any kind, etc. I couldn’t think of anything remarkable that had happened or any epiphanies that I experienced. I only had the sense that this was something that I needed to practice more often. I needed to vacation more. I needed to practice Savasana.

Over breakfast with my husband on that last day, I asked if he was ready to be home. He said, “Yes. It’s too hard for me to relax. I don’t think I’m cut out for this vacation thing.”

I smiled.

“Yes, I know. Vacations are hard to do.”

Maybe we’ll try again next year.

Gettin’ Gritty!

Teddy Boy 2002

When my oldest son was a toddler, the odds were against him. Doctors painted grim pictures of Ted’s future because of the seizures that attacked him multiple times per day. As most parents would, we went to great lengths to give him what we thought needed to learn to play and live like any other toddling boy. We scheduled an array of therapy sessions, learned sign language, encouraged him to jump and run and stack blocks and put together puzzles. We set high expectations.

By four, Ted was two years seizure-free and developing better than his doctors predicted. One hot summer day on the playground, he saw another boy make an arm-fart. The sun was shining and the trees rustling their thick manes of leaves. And Ted’s eyes glimmered in the awesome reflection of that boy’s arm-fart. I watched as Ted slowly slid his hand to his own armpit to cast his first line into the depths of body sounds. And then… nothing. Failure.

According to researchers, it is that kind of failure that should help our kids learn the keys to success. Some of history’s greatest accomplishments came only after disappointments. And yet, we all know that not everyone bounces back after failure. Angela Duckworth won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013 for her research on “grit” – what she defines as a winning combination of goal directedness, motivation, self-control, and positive mindset. Grit, according to Duckworth, is a key factor in predicting success and more important than talent in many cases.

As parents, we see when our kids have Grit and we see when they give up. What can we do to help them cultivate Grit?

  • Start Early. When they cry as infants, we soothe. This soothing calms anxieties and develops the neural circuitry to learn to self-soothe and eventually self-regulate. As they get older, set reasonable limits and enforce them with empathy. “I know you want to eat 76 cookies. They are delicious. But two is all we are going to eat right now.” This will develop internal limits and teach resilience. Children have to be taught that they don’t always get what they want – and it’s okay.
  • Teach Them to Achieve Goals. Household chores are a great vehicle for goal achievement. Start with stacking books. Then picking up laundry. One step at a time, teach your kids how to size up a project, identify steps to achieve the goal, and how to deal with obstacles along the way. We use the same system for finishing a puzzle as toddlers to coach our kids in writing research papers as middle-schoolers.
  • Teach the Growth Mindset. Tell your children how it works. “So you want to arm-fart? All right, it’s going to take time to teach your brain to work your body to make those awful noises. With practice, your brain will learn. You have the ability to be smarter, stronger, and better at whatever you choose!”
  • Enjoy Their Joy. Find out what your kids are passionate about and be their number one fan! With your support in their passions, they will learn to persevere and succeed by facing the challenges, learning through failures, and experiencing success. Most importantly, your genuine care in their happiness will help them to develop an internal happiness that will help them stay the course in the face of disappointment.

winner ted

Thankfully for Ted, we are gritty parents. It took a full year of Ted trying to arm-fart. The day that first sound emerged from his hand and armpit is one of many proud moments. To this day, we use “The Year of the Arm Fart” as an example for our other kids and a reminder to Ted that he is capable of whatever goals he sets his mind to achieve. With Grit like that, the sky is the limit!

The Best Job Ever That You Would Reconsider If You Only Knew…

Joe was an awful baby. He cried when I wanted him to sleep. He slept when I needed him to wake. He only smiled when no one was around. And often he would squish his face in disgust when anyone walked into the room. He never ate. When he did eat, it came right back up. In desperation, I weaned him off of the boob and onto food only to be told that we had to go back to breast-feeding a month later. What troubled me most of all about Joe was that I had no idea what I was doing. I was defeated. He was my fourth kid – it should have been a cakewalk. Yet, I felt hopeless, helpless, and deeply inadequate as a mother.

To make a long story shorter, I eventually figured it all out. Thanks to our beloved Dr. Lisa, I realized that I knew nothing. She taught me that raising children is a combination of learning to juggle fiery knives and trying to predict the weather in Kansas from within an Alaskan cave… while knitting socks for elephants… and humming the Ave Maria. The only thing that I could do is learn to listen to my babies and give them what they needed – not necessarily what I decided. As babies, my children were not exactly good communicators. But, I learned to hear their cries, giggles, coos, and translate accordingly. As toddlers, I learned to interpret the whining and No! into requests for food, sleep, and cuddles.

Now as kids and – yikes! – teens, these little people have the same needs but a different language. They are more capable of doing for themselves and actually have responsibilities and society. While I can certainly call the school and gear up my “Helicopter Mama” ways, I know that it doesn’t help them to learn to live in this world. Instead, I have to teach them to be independent and free to discover the realities of the world. Even if those realities are sometimes harsh and less forgiving that we want our children to experience. Since then, I’ve discovered there are varying degrees of allowing children to experience the world. The best practice I’ve found as a parent is to equip them for success and allow them to fail.

“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain quiet observer of all that happens.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

How this plays out in daily life is the reason that a Mother’s job is so challenging. Here are my best tips:

1. Assign Responsibility. In our house, everyone is responsible for their own “stuff”. Clothes, toys, books, homework, pets, etc. However, everyone has a checklist for what needs to be done on a daily or weekly basis. No one is above a checklist.

2. Teach. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to unload a dishwasher, fold a towel, or even feed the dog. If you expect your kids to take responsibility, at least give them an opportunity to learn how to do the task. Not only will they be equipped to meet your expectation, but they will be proud to have followed your lead.

3. Reward. Let’s be clear. Sometimes the reward for doing something is that you don’t have to suffer the consequence of NOT doing it. Whether or not you decide to pass out ice cream cones or just give a big hug should always depend on the situation, the task, AND the kid! (Joe is often given a simple “Good job! It looks nice,” for making his bed and Ted often gets a ticker-tape parade for doing the same!)

In the end, my job is to do the best job I can to grow good people. The task is always daunting and never easier than it seems. But the rewards are unmatched.