“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” —Billy Joel
The last two months I have worked on a challenge. Shying away from calling it a New Year’s Resolution because if past years were any indication of my patterns, I tend to fade out on those resolutions quickly. I wanted a challenge that would motivate me in a variety of areas of my life. So I decided to challenge myself to incorporate more music into my day.
Mornings are not always my friend and I rely on the power of caffeine to get me going. Don’t worry, I did not go so drastic in my challenge as to cut out caffeine. I value the people around me too much to put them through that scenario. No, I just added some music to my morning routine as well. I created a playlist of upbeat, positive songs, putting my wireless speaker into the bathroom and cranking the energizing tunes while I showered. Songs to sing along with…because we all know how much better we sound when we sing in the shower! Gone was the morning news I usually began my day with and by replacing it with music, I was pleasantly surprised with my energy and positive outlook to start the day.
My writing project during this time was to finish up editing and revising a romance novel. So I created a playlist filled with crooner and big band era music. I loved playing this music as I did things around the house. It made chores seem somewhat more enjoyable…somewhat. The genre of music gave me the motivation to write and new ideas flowed.
Music has this amazing ability to uplift the spirit and also soothe the mind. During evenings I would play calm, inspirational tunes or simply instrumental songs with nature sounds interwoven into the music. All electrical devices were turned off by 9pm and it was just me, my music and a good book. I began to watch less tv. Sleep came easy. Over the last couple of weeks I strayed from this nightly pattern and the insomnia and restless sleep once again had returned. In my mind, I knew the detriment of electronics before bed but slipping back into old habits showed me the importance of sticking to this new nightly routine I had established.
Incorporating more music into our day made a positive impact on my daughters as well. Driving teens around somedays I feel like an Uber Mom and so I try to be intentional with our time, connecting. No earbuds by passengers are ever allowed. We would play music and everyone got a chance to be the DJ. Laughing, car singing and the occasional dancing may have occurred. It was fun to share new songs with each other!
Scientifically, there is plenty of research on the positive effects of music on the brain. Listening to music has been shown to reduce pain, decrease stress and anxiety as well as improve memory and mood. Even patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia have been known to find relief through the power of music. Children with post traumatic stress disorders, anxiety or various forms of special needs have also benefitted from music as a therapeutic resource. Yet, more and more we see many public schools forced to reduce music and arts programming.
So if you find yourself struggling with energy or needing to reduce stress, step away from devices, social media and news stories and just crank your favourite tunes. It may even motivate you to pick up an instrument and begin playing because there’s even more known benefits to the brain and body when you play an instrument.
January and February can be gloomy months, especially on the rainy west coast. I’m so glad I chose this music challenge as I was reminded how much music has meant to me over the years. It’s amazing how some songs can still bring back a flood of memories from special moments in my childhood and teen years.
Not only the musical notes and tunes, but the lyrical poetry and stories found within the songs gave me a much needed boost during this winter. Let me know how you incorporate music into your day by commenting below.
A love of music does the heart good!
“Music is life. That’s why our hearts have beats.”-unknown
May your day be filled with sunshine and your heart with songs. -love Nikki
Did you know there are 36 days until Christmas? Now check your pulse. Did that realization make your heart race, fill you with panic or did it bring a smile to your face with anticipation? We all face the lead up to Christmas with a different attitude. And sometimes different years bring added stress or busyness to the season. Our children also experience the varying emotions brought on by the holidays and they can definitely sense how we react as well.
When my daughters were younger, they loved bringing in the special bin filled with treasured Christmas picture books that we would read and reread every year. We also added to our pile each year and they anticipated new Christmas stories. This was a tradition to them, something that brought them comfort and joy. It was also routine. Establishing a routine during a season that brings many activities that are out of routine will give stability to a child who has anxiety over the many unexpected or new experiences.
So what are some creative ways to establish a reading routine through Christmas?
For younger children create an Advent Calendar of books:
1. Go to the library or used book store without your child. Pick out some new to them stories. They could be Christmas related or on a theme that is completely separate from Christmas. Choose some different genres. Don’t forget to include non-fiction books as well.
2. Look for book sales online or local authors selling books at Christmas events.
3. Create an element of excitement about these books for your child. You could wrap each book up individually and choose one package a day to open. Or if you want to limit the wrapping paper waste, you could write each title down on a separate piece of paper and have it in a Christmas decorated bag where your child could choose one title a day. Make sure to have the bin of books hidden so the books are kept secret until they are chosen to read.
4. Snuggle up as a family with pillows, blankets, favourite stuffed animal friends and maybe even a Christmas cookie as you share the new story.
5. Don’t forget to introduce your child to the author or illustrator of the book by maybe telling a little fact about them such as where they live, other books written or illustrated etc. A quick Google search about the author/illustrator before reading will give you and your child a connection to the story and the person who wrote or illustrated it.
For older children:
Choose a family novel that you all can sit around listening to a chapter or two each evening. It could even be an audio book. You can turn off the lights, have the fireplace going and enjoy a mug of hot chocolate as you journey along with the characters on adventure.
This year my teen daughters and I will be reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. After we finish reading it, I’m looking forward to having a pj movie night with them and watch the 1949 movie.
So as the Countdown to Christmas creeps closer, find your family a reading tradition around the holidays that brings anticipation, comfort and special memories.
What are some special Christmas books that you loved as a child? Share with me in the comments down below!
May your holidays be filled with books and stories to share.
This past May our family had the opportunity to travel to Europe, visiting Germany and Denmark. On the first leg of our journey we drove from Frankfurt to Berlin and I noticed beautiful patches of wild flowers along the way. I marvelled at the quaint little towns we would pass with church steeples standing tall. The cobblestone squares as gathering places to share stories and laughs with friends and family. Such a beautiful country side; tranquil, peaceful. Yes, I could easily find myself living here.
Arriving in Berlin we began touring the many historical sites, where not so long ago there was no peace. It was hard to believe there was a time where the beautiful land we were travelling now was not always such. Here we were, standing in history; on ground where battles were waged. Not only physical battles but battles of strength of mind, heart and perseverance. Those days were heavy days as we read about personal stories of families torn apart, those taking a stand and being a voice, knowing what it would cost and yet still willing to risk everything. Seeing photos of the faces, physical landmarks, tunnels dug for freedom and buildings of shelter or worship destroyed. It had a huge impact on my family. History that we had read about in books was now where we placed our feet. The bravery of those who told their stories, those who stood up for the unjust ways in the most difficult of times was something that we took away with us, forever in our hearts.
Today, Remembrance Day, we remember the many lives changed forever by war, I think of the men and women who fought to protect, for those to have freedom. They gave so that many could live. We will not forget.
There are still battles waging around the world today, maybe not all are physical battles, but those just as powerful. Ones speaking of hatred and greed, seeking power by attempting to make others powerless. But we can be the voice for the voiceless, even if it is in the small things around us on a daily basis. When we hear words of hate being used, say something. When we see those struggling, do something. Small steps taken will lead to miles gained as we journey a road to freedom for all.
Where it is possible to sow kindness, there is peace.
I am just a small small voice sometimes never heard.
So listen very closely to my each and every word.
Each of us can make a difference, each of us can touch a heart.
Each of us can hold a hand, each of us can do our part.
I am just a small voice wanting all people to live free.
It’s up to every one to change the sadness that we see.
Each of us can say a prayer, each of us can shed a tear.
Each of us can share with others, whether far away or near.
I am just a small voice but I will make my message clear.
All children should be safe and never have to live in fear.
Each of us can take a stand, each of us can make a choice.
Each of us can speak together and have a louder voice.
-Nikki Kroetsch Bergstresser
Do you remember as a child sitting around a campfire, where spooky stories were being told? Or maybe you have fond memories of listening to relatives share stories of days gone by. The art of storytelling has us connecting with others and sharing experiences. Storytelling entertains, educates, preserves culture and instills values.
If you are interested in building storytelling into your family routines, I would suggest spending time listening and observing with your children in different environments. Go into the forest, sit on a log together and just listen to the sounds. What do you hear? Look up high into the trees; imagine what lives in the branches. Are there hollowed out trunks or crevices between rocks? Who or what could be living there? Be creative, all responses accepted, there’s no wrong answers. This builds in an aspect of risk taking that is needed when telling stories. Often we can become paralyzed in our storytelling searching for a correct response or perfect way to tell a story. Spend time “people watching” in stores and parks. One of my favourite places to watch people is the airport. Make up stories about the people you observe. Where are they going? Who are they going to see? When driving in the car, look out at the landscapes, farmyards or neighbourhoods. Ask questions to each other about what you see that would illicit creative responses. All these aspects are great springboards to becoming a storyteller.
This last year I had the opportunity to develop a series of five stories for Bedtime Stories (getbedtimestories.com). It is a digital storytelling app to support parents in sharing stories with their children. It has a multifaceted approach where parents can directly read the stories word for word to their children or they can use the key points to guide their storytelling. With each story series having five stories, children and parents connect to the characters and observe the growth and development throughout the series. They can even continue making up new stories related to the series. There is also a Story Builder section where random components of a story are selected and families build their own story together. It can make for many giggles on a long car trip with each family member contributing to telling the story. Authors all around the world contributed to this storytelling app, seeing the value in bringing families together through storytelling. Bedtime Stories will be releasing a Storytelling School within the app to assist families with how to tell stories and the benefits of storytelling for your child’s growth and family connection.
Carter & the Cedar Forest Critters is the story series I developed for Bedtime Stories. Carter is a rather shy boy and often struggles to have his voice heard among his four older and louder brothers. When he has the opportunity to spend summer with his grandparents in Cedar Forest, Carter discovers a magical walking stick, giving him the ability to talk to furry and feathered critters. His knowledge and love of nature allows him to lend a helping hand, solve a few problems and make new friends.
One of the highlights in my writing journey has been to connect with storytellers from around the world. The publisher for Bedtime Stories is Little Lights Studio in Vienna, Austria. The illustrator for the cover of Carter & the Cedar Forest Critters was Lenny Wen who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. Seeing the characters you created on paper be brought to life in illustration was quite exciting. Having each story world with only one illustration is part of the concept behind the storytelling app. This allows for families to incorporate more creativity and interpretation into the story world.
Nature is an aspect I love to include in my story writing. There is peace that unclutters the mind and heart when one spends time in nature. While writing this story series I would immerse myself in the natural setting of the forest for inspiration. Often I would load up my folding chair, laptop, coffee and munchies (because chocolate and writing go hand in hand) and head to Bateman Park. You may have seen me writing under the large trees with the gurgling stream.
My writing journey continues on as I have numerous picture book manuscripts completed as well as a middle grade novel set in the Pacific West coast. This summer I dipped my feet into the waters of screenplay writing andworked with my dear friend, Denise Jaden www.denisejaden.com from Abbotsford, who writes YA fiction. The path to traditional publishing can be difficult and at times disheartening with rejections. Connecting with fellow authors and being part of the writing community is key. My focus is to enjoy the steps in the journey and not worry about the destination, for it is in our steps where we find the story.
May your days be filled with stories to share and your cup with coffee.
You can connect with Nikki on Twitter (@NBergstresser) and Facebook (Nikki Bergstresser-author) or check out her blog NikkiBergstresser.com
This was a post I had written last year and wanted to share it again. I will be completing some further blog posts on connecting with your child in the weeks to come. Enjoy and feel free to share your ideas and comments!
September is a whirlwind of activities. From filling out a plethora of forms for each child, to making sure you have groceries to pack those school lunches and even just getting into the car on time for activities…without forgetting a child. It can be overwhelming! Calendars once again become filled with who has to be where with what and at what time. In my opinion, one can never have enough coffee for the first few weeks of September!
Last Monday I was feeling quite proud of myself for getting my daughter to tennis, packing a supper for her to eat in the car after the lesson and then picking up her friends and taking them all to their first time at youth group. We drive up to the event and I said, “Wow, we are the first to arrive!” Again, feeling proud of my organization and time management. Waiting for…
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For as long as I can remember, the last weekend in August meant a full weekend of celebrating Morden Manitoba’s Corn & Apple Festival. It was filled with food and entertainment. However, I think my highlight has always been the people. Walking up and down the main street meeting friends and sharing laughs. Moving away to university I still returned home with anticipation of the festival. Now having lived on the west coast for almost 20 years there was a time when I was unable to come back to enjoy the festivities. It’s only been in the last four years where my schedule changed that I have been able to come “home” again. And it’s been more special than ever because I have been able to introduce my daughters to all that Corn & Apple has to offer. At first I wondered if they would see the same joy I had for it. However, they fully embraced all the traditions and now are even more eager than I to attend. Each summer they make a list of “must do’s” when returning to Morden. My one daughter commented that only in Morden would she go to the post office and receive a ‘welcome home hug’ from someone that knew our family when I was going up, yet she had never met.
For our friends who often ask me why I get so excited about Morden’s Corn & Apple Festival 🌽🍎 ….here’s a few of my reasons….and maybe next year you may just find yourself making the trip to the prairies where you will be warmly welcomed!
‘Twas the night before Corn & Apple and all through the streets,
Set up was occurring with food and sweet treats.
The main stage put up with lights and sound tested,
Time to go home soon so we’d all be well rested.
For morning would come in a blink of an eye,
And first on our list was the pancakes to try.
Catching up with folks and sharing some laughs,
Then make a stop by the tents filled with crafts.
The midway is waiting with wild-crazy rides,
That will be sure to jostle and jolt your insides.
Hours spent walking up and down Stephen Street,
Cause half of the fun is the people you meet.
Free corn on the cob and apple cider galore,
A petting farm with goats and much to explore.
Saturday morning know there’s no time to snooze.
For it’s out the door early a parade spot to choose.
Tossing of candy and clowns will appear.
Those playing bagpipes are met with great cheer.
There’s horses, floats and Shriners galore.
And just when you ask, “Can there be any more?”
Cause with all that was seen the end must be near.
But out come the combines; Case and John Deere.
And finally, the sign that we know it’s a wrap
Come those carrying shovels and scooping horse crap.
We join in the crowds headed to munch,
For it’s Elk’s BBQ we are having for lunch.
Then Bingo is calling under the tent,
Hoping to win back the money we spent.
CottonWood stage is fiddling a song.
The seniors are dancing and singing along.
But the smell of fried onions calls me away
Catholic burgers are waiting there’s no time to stay.
And then it’s the main stage, the music so loud.
Chilliwack’s “My Girl” is drawing the crowd.
Corn & Apple weekend will soon draw to an end.
Summer is over and fall’s just round the bend.
We hear it exclaimed as we pass others near.
“Wasn’t it great? See you next year!”
-Nikki Kroetsch Bergstresser (2018)
For more information on the Morden Corn 🌽 & Apple 🍎 Festival check out their website by clicking this link: Corn & Apple Festival
So may your day be filled with festivities and your cup with apple cider!
Our family flew to Germany yesterday. My husband has been there 15 years ago but for our daughters and myself this is our first time in Europe. Over the next while, I will be posting our experiences and my reflections.
Everyone wants those Rick Steves’ travel moments but how often are those visions in our head smacked down and replaced by a Griswold’s family vacation? Now I have nothing against the Griswolds but a combination of the two vacation ideals would definitely be my preference.
So today I spent time reflecting and writing on what goes into the journey and how through our travels we are trying to be more intentional in how we relate to each other as a family. Don’t get me wrong…there will definitely be many Griswold moments along the way. I promise I will share those too!
So when travelling, remember…
Recognize Each Other’s Strengths
Getting ready for this type of trip requires much planning. I’m a spontaneous person but my husband is the planner. We are a great pair that way. Mostly. Sometimes we get frustrated with each other’s uniqueness. My approach to “fly by the seat of my pants” or “I’m more creative when I push something to a deadline” doesn’t always work in every circumstance and can totally stress an “A” personality out. Just like at times his colour coded spread sheets and prioritized lists make me feel overwhelmed and panic. But for the most part, we compliment each other and appreciate the gifts we bring to our marriage. When we attempt to understand where each other is coming from, we allow our spouse to bring his or her best into the marriage.
Not Every Moment is FB Perfect
Now travelling is such a family bonding time and many special memories are made but truth be told it also brings added stress to a marriage, between siblings or child and parent. We have spent some time discussing how to give each other grace when under pressure. What does that look like? To recognize what our trigger points are during stressful times is important. It doesn’t alway happen and in the heat of the moment it can easily be forgotten. But we are going to keep reminding ourselves to let the little things “go” and keep the bigger picture in mind. So if one child is freaked out by “old things” be respectful when taking him or her to a museum and understand anxiety levels will be higher. Or know that if another child uses humour and may be overly wild, it could be a coping mechanism for feeling nervous. Know that what might come across as anger or moody could actually be panic or anxiousness about a new situation. We all handle our emotions in different ways. Attempt to understand before trying to be understood. And sometimes things just get messy. Bickering will happen. Plans may not go according to how we think they should go. Take a step back and start a clean slate…I know I always appreciate being offered a “do over”.
Respect Each Other’s Passions
Not everyone in our family is into the same interests. When doing our planning for travelling we try to remember to take this into account. We want to balance where we eat, what we see and do as well as pace the day out. My husband is not one to sit by a pool on vacation. He is a goer and needs to be active. But he also knows even though I love to be on the move too, I desperately need some quiet time here and there. Both our daughters have different interests and passions as well. So sometimes on vacation we will plan doing things on our own for a few hours or pair off together for activities and then come together to share our experiences. When in Florida last November, my husband left for a little adventure to tour around different hotel resorts around DisneyWorld. My youngest daughter and I were much more content to enjoy some pool time and reading. Later that day the four of us got back together and enjoyed some great laughs about our day and looking over our photos.
When my husband began his business and our girls were babies, we didn’t travel, unless it was back to Manitoba to see our families. Starting up a business is hard financially and takes a toll on the emotions too. I was also working several jobs from the home while looking after babies and having poor health. There were some really tough years. Now we are in a season where we can enjoy doing travelling together. Not every family is in a season to travel or travel doesn’t work or interest them. We all have different points or paths in our journeys. We are thankful we are able to travel and do something together we love and I never want our family to take it for granted or feel entitled to it.
There may be a season in our lives again where travel is not possible and that’s ok too. For as much as I absolutely love our travels as a family, it’s not just about what we see and do, for me it’s my crazy crew that I am thankful to do it with. No matter what journey we are on, I’m just thankful we can journey on together.
Tomorrow my dad has his birthday. And living provinces away, I am not able to celebrate with him face to face. It is sometimes difficult being so far away from family. My dad has given me a love of reading, writing and nature throughout my life and for that I will always be grateful. He loves to write so I thought this year I would write him something as part of my gift. He battled cancer with strength and determination three years ago, it was a hard journey but he chose to journey on. So Happy Birthday to a wonderful dad!
With much love, your daughter. xxoo
When the path laid out before you bends and turns and twists…journey on.
When majestic trees stretch up to the sky, casting shadows down below…journey on.
When moss fallen logs and broken branches try to stop you in your tracks…journey on.
When feet begin to tire and you think it’s time to stop…journey on.
When the trail rises up and you climb and climb and climb…journey on.
When you stumble on the rocks and you feel yourself slow down…journey on.
When wind blows hard and rain beats down and almost knocks you over…journey on.
When the path of travel splits ahead and you have to make a choice…journey on.
When you meet the rushing river and need to cross the bridge…journey on.
And when you finally reach the end, stop and look around.
See where you have been, each step and struggle has made you who you are.
For each journey makes you stronger and gives you something new.
You look at things much differently than when you first began.
Took the risks, learned and grew on a journey made for you.
And in the end stand tall, be proud because you chose to journey on.
(April 12, 2018)
What was supposed to be the beginning of a wonderful weekend, ended up with a plot twist part way through. In the middle of the night my husband woke me with a start. He yelled for me saying something was wrong with him. My husband rarely gets ill. He looked absolutely ashen, I had never seen that colouring on him before. He was cold and clammy. All of a sudden he stumbled backwards and fell to the ground. I panicked and woke up my daughters. My first thought was a heart attack. Give my youngest credit as she had been watching some First Aid videos for school and immediately said we should give my husband an aspirin. She was much calmer in the situation that I was at the moment.
My husband assured us he did not think it was a heart attack. Still he was quite ill and I was quite worried. So I kept waking him frequently. Several hours later I began to feel ill myself. I figured it was maybe a delayed reaction from being stressed. But my stomach pains continued to get worse and worse. It quickly became evident that we both had food poisoning. A bad case of food poisoning. (Not that there’s actually a good case of it ever.)
Now having both of us so ill was not a good thing. Our daughters had not come out with us to eat the day before. They were spared this agony. My husband and I kept saying we were beyond thankful the girls were not sick and old enough to take care of themselves and the pets for the day. We were definitely not able to care for anyone, barely even ourselves. I think before any couple can get married they have to pass the “sick together” test. Because seeing each other in such a state definitely is a testament to true love. Forget the flowers and chocolate. True love means holding your loved one’s head over a porcelain bowl.
Laying in bed, barely able to form complete sentences, I felt guilty because my daughters were left by themselves for the day. I had a huge list of things to get and prepare for our Easter celebration the next day. As well, I was supposed to leave Sunday evening to enjoy a few days on a writing get away. These now seemed impossible. I tend to be a control freak so when things are out of control, it’s a bad feeling…a good lesson for me, but not a pleasant one.
At 5pm I started to wonder how they were doing. You see they were both a little squeamish to come near us in the state we were in. Yes, we were that scary. At one point I had laid my face down on the cool tiles in the bathroom and I could hear my husband call out from his bathroom, “Girls! Go check on your mom!” Apparently they played best out of five, “Paper, Rock, Scissors” and the loser had to check on me.
Then my youngest came into our room an hour later. “Don’t worry about making us supper cause I ordered in pizza. I also have a list of all the restaurants for Skip the Dishes in case you are sick tomorrow.” (Please note there were lots of groceries in our pantry for them to cook) I lifted my poor aching head off the pillow. “You ordered in supper?” At that moment I didn’t even want to think about food. “Yep! We also did the dishes and tidied up.”
Hmmmm. I was impressed, but mostly thankful. It’s at these moments as a parent where you see your children show their independence. Gone are the days of cutting up grapes and wiping down high chairs. They were able to phone in an order for pizza, provide proper instructions, give the correct money (they even used their own money) and included a tip.
Mind you, there are still many lessons to be learned. One such lesson was that every so often come and offer your ill parents water or a cool cloth. Also, if your parents are violently sick, maybe open the windows so the smell of popcorn you are making to watch a movie doesn’t waft upstairs to the bedroom making them more nauseous. And just because your parents are too incoherent to notice the time, don’t think you should stay up till midnight watching movies together. Mind you, it was sweet hearing their laughter downstairs while they enjoyed each other’s company.
So the next morning we still were quite ill. I woke to hearing my daughter on the phone to my mom giving her all the details. And I do mean ALL. She then said, “So now, Grandma, I guess we won’t get to go to church or get any Easter treats. But it’s ok. It was just a little sad looking on Instagram at my friends dressed up and having their Easter egg hunts.” Ugh! The guilt. But when I was up and a little more coherent I did assure my daughter that Easter would be coming to our house but a week later.
I made it to my hotel room Sunday night, barely functioning. I must have looked a mess when checking in. Not only was I still ill and not able to eat anything but I had broke my glasses a couple of days before and had not been able to take them to be fixed. Because I could not see to repair them (my eyesight is that bad) my daughter used a glue gun to mend them for me. A LARGE quantity of glue was used. Give her credit for resourcefulness. However, I was quite the sight for sore eyes. Why didn’t I just stay home, you ask? Because the reservation was not refundable. The time away was a lovely birthday gift from my parents and husband that I had not yet used and I could not see it go to waste. So I crawled into bed. A beautiful King sized bed all to myself and slept the entire night.
Today I woke up feeling a little better but definitely not a 100 percent. My husband took the day off work as he was still not fully functioning either. It was a weekend to remember and not one we will soon forget. But tomorrow is a new day and I am looking forward to curling up in my room and doing some writing on my novel. Easter celebrating will come when I get home. Any day is a good day to celebrate Easter and the risen Lord. And on the positive side…the Easter treats are now 50% off! There’s always something to be thankful for.
So may your week be filled with chocolate eggs and your heart with gratitude.
When I’m not an author, I’m an actor. My family would easily attest to that and my friends know I follow Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage” philosophy. I can bring the drama. (No comments needed.) My husband often says I don’t even need to speak a word as my emotions are in my facial expressions. So I always anticipate the moments when I am able to use my acting skills.
One of my dear friends asked me to come into her classroom and bring my dramatic abilities to help her share with her students the concept of European exploration and the impact of how it affected the Indigenous peoples in Canada. Hmmm…this sounded like a heavy topic. Was I able to accurately present this concept? My friend had a plan….
She set the stage. I was a French immersion teacher in a neighbouring school and the school was facing a renovation issue due to flooding. People in need of finding new space/land…sound familiar? So I came to her school wanting to share in her classroom space. A new land so to speak.
My friend introduced me and I entered the classroom with her students’ warm welcome. I thanked them for allowing me and my “class” to share their space. In fact, I brought their teacher flowers as a thank you. Their teacher gave me some cookies she baked in trade. Not beaded blankets or metal pots but a similar idea. Soon I displayed a feeling of entitlement. Then the fun began.
I noticed the native art on the walls. I stated that it looked “interesting” but did not fit with what my students were learning so I said it would need to be removed. The students were slightly surprised but were more than willing to have it taken down. One student even suggested we could put up something my students would prefer. I was surprised at how easy that was. Next, I moved to the back of the classroom by the coat hooks. I mentioned my students needed space so many of the students in the class would need to remove their bags/jackets to make room. When questioned by one girl as to what they should do with their belongings, I stated they could simply keep them by their desks and wear the coats all day because we needed the space. Ridiculous and simply bossy of me to suggest, but the students were quite agreeable to take their jackets and backpacks to their desks. Much more agreeable than I would have imagined. These were caring and giving kids! So far, not the reaction my teacher friend and I were expecting. I needed to “up” my acting game. And I was beginning to feel rather uncomfortable with how pushy and demanding I was towards such kind students.
I knew they recently had numerous students absent from school due to illness. I asked for those students to stand. Then I stated that it was important for my students to have space and not to be infected with germs. I asked all the students who had been ill to move to a corner of the classroom to make space for my students as I did not want them to become ill. Germs were to be avoided at all costs. (Which is rather ironic considering the small pox and other illnesses brought to North American soil by explorers and inhabitants.) I made the space quite small and I was pushy in my demands. Again, they were a little surprised, but being the kind hearted, respectful and generous students that they were, they moved.
How could I get a reaction? These were really sweet kids. They were willing to give and share more than I expected. In reality, their teacher and parents were doing a great job! What was their currency? What would cause them to hit that breaking point? Hmmm…I remembered when I first came into their class I asked them what they loved about their school. Hit them where it matters most, I thought. Phys.Ed. and recess!! I mentioned that they would need to cut their Phys. Ed. classes down by half so my students could take more classes as well as their recess times since there was not room for both groups on the playground at the same time. Well, that started the revolt! In fact, I went a step further and said that they would have to give their beloved floor hockey sticks to my students…but we would be willing to give them the broken sticks to use. That did it! Students started to protest and argue with what I was saying. In fact, when I moved their teacher’s belongings to another desk and said I would need to have her desk as well, I wasn’t sure I would make it out of the classroom in one piece. Very loyal students, they loved their teacher! The teacher intervened. She stated how I wasn’t actually a teacher from the school and was in fact an actor. They actually would not need to share their classroom with another class. No students or teacher would be “taking over” their classroom in such a way. I commended the students for being so accommodating and kind hearted. They also shared how frustrated and even angry they were for how I had made them feel.
This was a great catalyst for my teacher friend. She began the discussion with her students on how the indigenous peoples were impacted by European exploration. Even though what we presented was minute in comparison to how the impact was for the First Nations peoples, it gave the students real life comparison. They shared how mad they really were with what happened. How unfair it seemed with how they were treated. And keep in mind it was the same language we were speaking….no language barrier.
I guarantee you that it was a lesson that would stick with them for a while.
It was also a lesson for myself. My take away…this land does not belong to us. I am thankful for the land that I live on and recognize there are others’ steps that came before mine. Blood and tears have been shed over the land. It is a gift that we must share willingly.
It is up to us to make reconciliation. To understand what occurred before us and to make restitution. To live in peace and harmony and show a love that goes far beyond our selfish human nature. Our country was shaped by bravery, exploration and adventure but it was also shaped by heartbreak, injustice and sacrifice. Just like a Clint Eastwood film, in regards to the development and history of our Canada, it is crucial that we recognize the good, the bad and the ugly. Because if we do not acknowledge the full spectrum of development, we will not fully appreciate what came before us and live with a grateful heart for what we have now.
For it is not just the destination that we seek and set our sight, but the journey for in which the story unfolds.
Yesterday I left an acting audition in North Vancouver. It was a miserably dreary and rainy day coupled with a long drive from Abbotsford. I was tired and had a number of things on my mind. In my own little world, trying to think of what I needed to get done at home, things individual family members were counting on me for and various other miscellaneous items piling up. Normally I love February, but this year it has been a tough month for a couple of reasons. Just like everyone else. My mind felt muddled. All I wanted to do was get in my vehicle, crank the soundtrack that many of you have been listening to lately (The Greatest Showman) and sing my way back to Abbotsford. In the process of fumbling to get my keys out of my pocket and balance an umbrella, I dropped my phone. When I bent to pick it up, it was then I noticed a small clump of greenery beside the curb with the most brilliant purple. Crocus flowers were ready to bloom. There against the hard concrete was a small, but beautiful sign. Spring was coming. Hope. Soon more blooms would be bursting forth. I stopped to take in the small beauty, enjoy the moment and capture a couple of photos.
Today as I woke up to snow on the ground and gusting winds, it was disappointing to see. Winter has seemed rather long this year. Then I remembered the sign from yesterday, the little gift of a glimpse into what is coming. A crocus is a hardy plant. They have a waxy film on the cuticle that protects them from early spring or late winter frost. Persevering hardships of cold temperatures they are among the first signs of spring. So maybe your winter has seemed long. Maybe it has been a difficult season for you. Take hope, look for the signs, no matter how small. Spring is coming. Time for new growth and beauty. Are you looking for the signs?
May your day be filled with hope and your cup with coffee.
Countdown for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea is happening in our household. Ever since our daughters were itty bitty we would make watching the Olympics a family event. Kickoff was the Opening Ceremonies but preparation occurred much before that night. There are some great ways to incorporate learning, fun and family traditions into the Olympics. Throughout the article, I have included some links that you can use to jumpstart your Olympic celebrations at home.
Research the Host Country
Spend some time learning about where the Olympics will occur. Print out a flag, get books from the library and watch videos on YouTube about the host country’s culture, government and history. It gets a momentum going and can give insight and connections into events that occur during the ceremonies. Here are some helpful links:
Identify the different sports in the Winter Olympics. Choose some to watch that are family favourites and then choose one or two to learn about that are unfamiliar to your family. Look up some of the athletes that are competing before the ceremonies so you can look for them in the Parade of Nations. Here’s a link:
On the night of the Olympic Ceremonies, we enjoy cuisine that is from the host country. Now this may sound overly ambitious but it has become some of our most special family memories. Look up recipes and food that are part of the host country’s culture. Find some easy recipes and then maybe choose one that is a little more time consuming. We would make a list of the ingredients and go shopping together. No “Little Red Hen” happening in our house, everyone becomes part of the cooking process. When it was in Vancouver, BC we enjoyed maple glazed Salmon, poutine and Nanaimo bars. London celebrations began with tea and crumpets at a English tea room the afternoon of the ceremonies and then home to make Yorkshire pudding, bangers and mash and Toad in the Hole. Russia had us making beet borscht, piroshki and Bubba Romovaya cake.
So what are the recipes for this year? Now that the girls are older, they were responsible for planning the menu. Here are two of the web links that they found most user friendly and authentic.
Parade of Nations
Hanging a World map on the wall in our family room allowed us quick access to look up a country throughout the parade. As well, throughout the Olympic Games, it’s great to have a map for reference. Costco sells wall maps that are perfect for this purpose.
Recording the Results
We use a whiteboard to keep track of Canada’s medal wins as well as the top few countries. Every morning at breakfast we would do a quick medal count. It’s also a fun idea to do some predicting before the games commence as to the country that will get the most medals, number of gold/silver/bronze for your home country etc. Make it a fun family competition!
One of the special things about the Olympics I treasure is seeing countries come together. In this day when there is much hatred and darkness, it is a light to celebrate determination and perseverance of athletes and the hope brought forth by countries coming together.
Well I hope these few ideas and links will be of help for you in developing your own family traditions around the Olympics. Traditions are a great way to make family memories and it warms my heart that our daughters still look forward to these traditions even into their teen years. Hopefully they will continue to hold onto some of them as they have their own families and create new ones to pass down the torch of tradition as well.
So cheer hard and enjoy the games, my friends!
Let me know in the comments below if you found these ideas helpful.
May your day be filled with joy and your cup with coffee,
My personality has been a “get it done” and “focus on the destination” person. That changed as I began my writing path. I began to slow down and be more intentional and reflective. If you are pursuing writing, you will be all too familiar with the fact that things don’t move as fast or in the way that we would like them to move. And sometimes this can be a good thing as we learn more about ourselves in the process.
Here’s a few of my reflections and suggestions based on my journey for a literary agent.
1. Join Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators as they have a plethora of resources. Spend time reading and reflecting on what you discover by keeping a writer’s journal of helpful tips or a file on your computer. I anticipate receiving their quarterly bulletin and devour it over a cup or coffee or maybe a glass of wine. Join The Canadian Children’s Book Centre as well. Their newsletters and resources are fabulous.
2. Get to know your writing community through social media. My personal preference is Twitter. At the beginning, I would look up children’s authors I admired and follow them (not literally as that would probably mean a restraining order). By doing this, you also see who may “rep” the author as a literary agent which also leads to the literary agency. Using my handy writer’s journal, I would make specific notes. By following well known authors and up and coming debut authors it gives such valuable insight into the writing world. Now this can become time consuming. You don’t want to actually spend all your time on social media and no time devoted to writing. I would block out a set time period and even set my timer. When time was up, social media was put away. I received my first writing opportunity for Get Bedtime Stories app through my involvement on social media and connecting with other storytellers globally. Check out my five stories “Carter and the Cedar Forest Critters” and other authors’ story worlds on the app. The publishers are always interested in meeting new authors.
3. At first I would look at my list of literary agents and feel a little overwhelmed. Who should I send to? Will she/he like me?Feeling a little like a teen back in high school trying to fit in, I began my search for a literary agent. This takes time and maybe a glass or two of wine the first few times you receive rejections. I would go to my writer’s journal and look up an agency that I had written down in my searches. Spend time looking at the various authors and the genre of books they represented. Then look at the individual agents on the website and read about each agent. Take time to get to know them. This has been a process I’ve truly enjoyed. There are some amazing agents out there that have a true passion for literature. Take note of the agents that fit or rep what you write. Don’t waste your time sending to lit agents that are looking for something you don’t have. Not only is it frustrating for you by wasting your time, it is equally frustrating for them sifting through emails of irrelevant material. So don’t submit to an agent who has a wish list of YA or thrillers if you write about rainbows, unicorns and puppies. Often I will be reading about a literary agent or follow his/her tweets and think, “I’d love to hang out with this person!” (Again this is where your thoughts should stop to avoid that restraining order.)
4. Now is the time to start reaching out and querying. This is very important. Go back to the literary agency’s website again and specifically the agent’s info and query EXACTLY how you are instructed to query. Follow the guidelines and don’t go rogue. By following precisely what is asked, you will demonstrate to the agent that you are willing to respect his/her guidelines. After all, this is the first impression the agent receives from you. You don’t get to dazzle with your winning smile or charismatic charm just yet. I would query several agents at a time (not at the same agency though). Be aware of the agency guidelines.
5. Write down when you query and with what agent. And again, I prefer to write it down versus a spreadsheet as I feel it is almost therapeutic in a way. Now this is the hardest part. Put it out of your mind. Not checking your inbox every two minutes is one of the hardest parts in this process. The best advice I received from a fellow author is to get moving immediately onto another project. Even put your devices on “do not disturb” while you are writing so you don’t become distracted.
6. When I first began this process it was hard if I did not hear back from a literary agent. It was a blow to the self-esteem at first. After all, you are handing over a little piece of your heart. But it is getting easier. Just this January I had a revise and resubmit request from a lovely agent. She took the time to provide such valuable feedback. Now unfortunately, not all agents can do that or can even respond as the amount of queries they receive is unbelievable. And when you do get a rejection, look at it as an agent looking out for you. An agent does not want to rep an author that he/she feels might not be a good fit. After all, it’s like those pair of jeans. You want a great fit, otherwise it’s not going to feel comfortable or make you look as good as you should.
7. Take a rejection with your head held high. Don’t feel you need to argue your point or prove why your book would work. This does not do you any favour in the literary community. Take a page from Covey, “People won’t have time for you if you are always angry or complaining.” If you want to let off some steam, go for a walk, soak in a tub or crank up the tunes and dance it off (but close your blinds if you choose the last two…take it from my personal experience). Just don’t hastily respond back to a rejection. You will have emailing regret later, my friends.
8. Connect with an author community. Authors get authors. An author community is one of the most supportive groups of people. They are amazing cheerleaders and they also understand the highs and lows. Family and friends, as great as they are, may not always know how to encourage or kick you in the butt when you need it.
So I am still on my journey for that great pair of jeans and my BFF literary agent. But I’m actually enjoying it. Meeting amazing people along the way. Doesn’t mean I still don’t have my eye on the prize. It just means that the prize will be oh so much more rewarding when I reach it. Your journey may have some detours, washed out roads or switch backs up a mountain. But it is your journey, so embrace it, believe in it and pat yourself on the back for continuing on it.
I’d love to connect and hear about your journey too.
May your day be filled with good stories and your cup with coffee!
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Life is like a book.
Some chapters sad,
Some full of excitement,
Some with unexpected plot twists.
But as your story unfolds
May you have
Strength to persevere,
Love deeply and
Choose to be the voice that makes a difference.
2018…here’s to a great chapter in your story, my friends!
-written by Nikki Bergstresser (December 2017)
Five nights before Christmas, there’s much left to do
Shopping, baking and decorating too.
Some are all ready, their houses pristine.
I’m waiting for elves that might help me to clean.
Just trying to get in the ‘Christmasy’ mood
And keeping at bay any Grinch attitude.
For, “Did you get that?” and “Did you do this?”
Trying to make sure there’s nothing I miss.
Yet part of me just wants to lay on the couch
Avoiding the chaos and being a slouch.
Watch Hallmark movies from morning till night
Cause you know by the end everything is alright.
Stay in my pjs and not comb my hair
Eat caramel popcorn, drink wine without care.
It’s time to stop daydreaming, get the job done.
No elves are coming to join in the fun.
For Santa is sweet, a big jolly dude
But momma’s the one who prepares all the food.
It’s ok if things don’t go just as I plan
Just breathe, bite the head off a gingerbread man.
Adjust expectations and keep them real low.
Take a page from Queen Elsa and just let it go.
For days may seem long but years go by fast
Hold on to the moments, make memories that last.
-Nikki Bergstresser (December 2017)
Getting a good night’s sleep. What’s that you ask? Here I thought once our children were older and sleeping through the night, we would just fall back into a pattern of sleeping well and waking rested. No, getting older brings a whole new set of sleeping challenges (Another issue for a different blog post). But what has kept us awake this past week is small, furry and sleeps in our bed. Delilah, our little Dachshund dog. We adopted her from a rescue a couple of years ago. Delilah usually sleeps the entire night, snoring away and snuggled up tight to me. But this week she had woken in the middle of the night needing to go outside frequently. Living on the coast at the bottom of Sumas Mountain, wildlife is a common sight. So Delilah is not able to go outside by herself for fear of her becoming a sausage dinner to a critter.
Delilah gave me the nudge to get up. No amount of coaxing was going to get her back to sleep. I clumsily reached for my glasses…another issue with getting older. 4 am on the clock. Using the sweetest voice I could muster at 4am, I woke my husband. He mumbled, “Why can’t you take her out?” He already knew the reason but was biding himself a few more seconds under the covers. I tend to be a big ol’scaredy cat to go out in the middle of the night.
Don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows me knows that I love wildlife; but not the unexpected encounters in the dark.
Partly to reassure and partly out of frustration, my husband said, “There’s not going to be any animals sitting on our lawn waiting for you.” He searched for his shoes. Taking Delilah out, he continued to mutter to himself about the lack of sleep he’s been getting. Poor guy had not signed up for middle of the night pooch potty duty. Looking out the window from the living room, I saw something on the lawn about 10 feet from my husband and dog. At closer observation, I realized there hunched up on the lawn was an owl! An owl was on my lawn! Picturing this owl attacking my dog, I frantically called out to my husband. This scared the owl away. My husband came back inside with her. He had seen something when he went out but was not wearing his glasses so had not realized it was an owl. I felt a twinge of guilt when he asked if I was more concerned about his safety or was it just Delilah I was worried about. Oops. Of course I was worried about him too.
After the excitement, Delilah and my husband went back to sleep. Unfortunately, I could not fall back to sleep easily. So I stayed up researching owls. I came to the conclusion that the owl was a barred owl. I also did some research about owls eating pets. Putting my whole “an owl is going to eat my dog” worries aside, it was pretty incredible to see it soar off from our yard with silent wings.
Delilah is back to snoring and sleeping through the night again. Same thing can be said for my dear husband. But me, I keep getting up, sneaking downstairs, hoping for a glimpse of the owl, because you never know what you may see…..when nature calls.
What encounters with nature have you experienced recently? I’d love to hear about it.
May your day be filled with unexpected surprises and your cup with coffee.
‘Tis the season where one can become overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle and endless “To Do” lists. Calendars become crowded with concerts, get togethers and various other seasonal activities. If not selective in what you can or cannot accomplish, it can lead to a bah humbug or holiday burn out. Preparing for Christmas means being intentional and purposeful in planning.
One way that our family has been intentional during the holidays is to create family traditions. Something each year we anticipate. And because we have these traditions already in place, it is important to schedule accordingly so as not to “overbook” our calendar. Here are some ways to help in avoiding the Christmas Chaos.
1. Family Chat
Before the start of the season, sit down as a family and discuss what are some special activities/events that you look forward to every Christmas. Also list the events that you are required to attend such as school concerts, work parties, etc. It’s important for every family member to be heard during the brainstorming. Having full family input creates a sense of ownership and will make it easier if everyone is on board.
2. Evaluate the List
Look at the list. Ask yourself these questions:
-Will this activity add to the special times together as a family?
-How many activities during the week can our family handle without feeling the pressure? Are there any things that we could postpone or bump to the next month?
After you have narrowed down the list, plot on the calendar the activities for everyone to see. Often during the season, families can become flustered and the best intentions unravel with not everyone knowing the schedule. This way, family members who thrive on predictability and routine will be assured with one glance at the family calendar. In this day of technology, and calendars on the phone, we may assume all family members know the plans but this isn’t always the case.
4. Realistic Expectations
Sometimes the best laid plans unravel. Unexpected things arise such as illness, weather, work etc. How as a family will we respond? Do some problem solving together to anticipate the unexpected. Don’t set your expectations too high. Even though it is Christmas, there will still be daily life happening. Siblings will still argue. The house will still get messy. But how as a family can grace and understanding be interwoven into these moments amidst the height of holiday excitement? What ways can we help out? What ways can we show empathy?
Keep checking in with family members. Ask how they are doing? Be aware of tensions building. Know when it is time to “retreat” to a quiet place when feeling overwhelmed. Know when to ask for help. Remind each other frequently that you are all on the same team working together to make this time enjoyable for everyone.
6. Remember the Reason for the Season
Keep reminding each other it is not about having the “Pinterest Christmas” or keeping up with those around. It is a time to reflect on gifts that don’t go under the tree. What can you “give” to others to show how you appreciate them? During those times in the mall when it’s a fight for a parking stall or lines in stores seem endless, what ways can you show others the true meaning of Christmas in your response? Are you willing to give up that last parking spot you’ve just found? Do you let the mother with the screaming toddler go ahead of you in the lineup? Do you give a smile and tell the overtired cashier how much you appreciate their work?
By being proactive and purposeful during what can be a stressful time of year, it will allow your family more time to enjoy being with each other.
I’d love to hear from you on how your family takes chaos out of Christmas.
Stay tuned for my next blog article on creating family traditions during Christmas.
May your day be filled with joy and your cup with coffee!
Yesterday I took my daughters to the art gallery for a field trip on Canadian contemporary art. Now I have always enjoyed viewing art that included landscapes, like Monet paintings. Abstract Expressionism and Conceptualism in art has never been something I was drawn to.
We walked into the first gallery. I looked around. There were some blank canvases, black canvases and what looked to be some wrapped in cardboard, bubble wrap and tape. My reaction, at first glance, was that this gallery was obviously under “construction” and not finished being set up. It was then that the guide began to say these were the first pieces of art we would view.
What? There’s nothing there. This was going to be a short field trip. Just give it a chance, I coached myself through this internal dialogue.
Within a couple of sentences, I was drawn to what our guide was saying. She was, by all accounts, a natural story teller. She spoke about the art pieces with confidence, knowledge and most importantly a passion to share her love of art. She talked about how some artists had a routine and process about their work. The three “black” canvases had been painted over with hundreds of layers of prime colours. Looking at it from the side one could see the multi layered progression. It caused me to reflect on how people present themselves. At first glance sometimes all we see is that first impression. Not knowing what lies underneath, the process and experiences that developed layer after layer, shaping who we become. What? These three dark shaded canvases actually moved me, caused me to react, reflect and respond to the artist’s work. If I had just gone into the gallery, looked around without hearing the story, I would have left disappointed and feeling empty about the experience.
Walking into another gallery, I heard someone mutter a phrase I have often heard about abstract expressionism art before. “It looks like a child painted this.” Again our guide began sharing how some artists use spontaneity to create their art. Without planning or thinking, the artist is actively moved to splash, smear, drip or use some other creative method to abstractly create. We were given pieces of graphite and a paper, asked to choose a piece of art to sit in front and study the lines and markings of the work. Just sitting in front of the art, observing, I began to see different aspects of what at first looked to be chaotic emerge from the painting. I loved what spontaneity created.
So my take away from the field trip:
Perspective can change with pausing to listen to the story, looking deeper than the surface and allowing yourself to feel the emotions drawn from the experience.
And I fully plan to return to the art gallery again, as I left with several stories of my own just waiting to be written.
So my friends, may your day be filled with new experiences and your cup with coffee!
When going on vacation, one of the things I look forward to is connecting with other people. Hearing their story. It is amazing when you show someone you are interested and invested in the conversation, how much she or he will open up and share life experiences, the joys and the hardships. After all, we all have a desire to feel like someone is interested in us, our story. One of the places I have found to meet a diverse group of people with unique stories is when we vacation at DisneyWorld. And this past trip to Orlando did not disappoint.
At the Animal Kingdom resort, we met a lovely young lady from South Africa. Graduating from high school she chose to delay her post secondary education, leave her family and friends for a year to join in the international program. What a journey! She has spent the year meeting people around the globe and sharing her passion for animals with Disney guests. Not only gaining leadership and communication skills, it has given her direction when she goes back to South Africa to pursue a career related to her passion of educating others.
On the other end of the spectrum, we met an employee that has been with Disney for 40 years. Now that speaks volumes to job satisfaction. And you could really tell how much he enjoyed what he did. To stay in the same job for that long is becoming much more rare. Imagine all the stories he could tell from his days at Disney.
Then there was the little boy that came up to me. I was sitting in the lounge with my husband and this little guy walked right up and just looked me in the face and stared. I gave him a little smile and that was all that was needed. He spent the next while sharing with me all the things he was good at doing. Looking up at his smiling mom across the room, I got the impression that maybe others did not always give her son the opportunities to carry on such lengthy conversations. We spent the next while talking about what he liked to do. When it was time for him to leave, we said our goodbyes and I continued on conversing with my husband. After a few minutes, this little guy came running back up to me all out of breath. He hands me an origami washcloth snail and was beaming. “This is just for you!” My heart melted. I gave him the biggest high five and thanks, he skipped off to his waiting mom. She mouthed “thank you” to me and off they walked.
Another evening, sitting around the bonfire, we met a comical crew from southern Louisiana. They were a retired group of four, off on an adventure. Well, they kept my daughter and me in stitches for the entire visit. Not only was their accent a little hard to decipher at times when they talked quickly, but they also all talked at once! They were a hoot! I will admit there were times when I just had to smile and nod, not fully understanding what they were saying and hoping I wasn’t agreeing to something I would regret. After we left them still sitting at the bonfire, walking away my daughter leaned over to me and said, “That was the show, now time for dinner!”
So this was just a little snippet of amazing people I chatted with during vacation. My life has been enriched by the people I meet on my journeys. Listening to their stories allows me to be a better writer and hopefully a better human being. The world doesn’t seem quite so large or so scary when you take the time to connect with the people around you.
I’d love to hear from you, too! Feel free to drop me a comment for connect with me on Twitter.