Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Do We Tell The Kids?

A Letter to the Parents and Staff of My School...
The conversation below took place amongst a group of 4 to 5 year old children on the playground this morning after singing Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Child 1: “Rudolph got shot…he was shot in the meadow.”
Child 2: “No, that’s Bambi’s mom, she doesn’t have a red nose.”
Child 3: “Grandpa shoots too…just deers like Bambi and Rudolph, because he’s a hunter.”
Perhaps this conversation about shooting is just coincidental, but in light of the recent shootings in Connecticut this conversation on the playground has brought about a nice opportunity to relay some information to parents and staff about how to approach conversations regarding shootings with our young ones.
You all have heard the quote, “Children are like wet cement, whatever falls on them makes an impression”…consciously and subconsciously. With that in mind, may I suggest to you to please be conscientious of what conversations, TV and radio news your children are overhearing and attempt to protect them from repeated exposure to frightening images and stories.
Below is an article by a child psychologist from the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at New York University. The author sheds some light on the most developmentally appropriate approach to addressing the Connecticut shootings with young ones.
If you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding best practice with sensitive issues, please do not hesitate to contact the office. We are more than willing to assist you!  

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Deep Respect for the Courage of Ordinary People

I am happy to report that the paper writing, work/school balancing, volunteering my time and talent at two community agencies with no financial reimbursement (however unsurpassed wisdom reimbursement) era is over. That’s right people, just yesterday, at 7:30 AM I submitted my last and final paper EVER as a graduate student.

The paper I submitted was a Capstone paper, in which I reflected on my experience in the Masters of Social Welfare Program. I thought I would share a few of my reflections with you all.

As I reflect on my educational experience in the MSW program, I have really begun to appreciate and embrace the importance of balance. Over the course of the last three years, I have had to learn how to balance my work, relationships, education, emotions, spirituality, mind, and body.  To be an adult means to accept the responsibility of constantly making choices. I have just recently begun reflecting on and noting how often and how well I am taking care of myself and others these days.

The stakes are high in the social work profession, if I do not care for myself I can become just as depressed, anxious, or angry as some of the clients I have worked with in the past. I need to think carefully about how I am going to continue to protect, replenish, and enjoy myself throughout my career. I am more active in some areas of self-care, but ignore others. For example eating healthily, exercising, making time for self-reflection, and finding things that make me laugh, contributing to causes in which I believe in, strengthening my spirituality and negotiating for my professional needs seem to be in balance. Areas of improvement include balancing my workload so that no one day or part of a day is “too much,” getting enough sleep, reading literature that is unrelated to work, devoting more time to personal relationships, and asking for help when I need it.

I have learned many valuable lessons throughout the course of my educational career; understanding that we are all more alike than we are different is of greatest importance. We have commonalities amongst our differences. In the end we all want the same things, beyond the basics such as food and shelter, we all want respect, revelation, relaxation, results, and relationships. Margaret Mead (a public face of anthropology) defined the ideal society as one that has a place for every human gift. The ideal human life allows for the development of those gifts and their use for the benefits of others.

As social workers, we deal with alcoholics, people with anger-control problems, psychopaths, people in crises, and the seriously mentally ill. We testify in custody and commitment hearings. We report child abuse and neglect. We counsel addicts and perpetrators. As social workers, we are invariably in the line of fire as frontline workers attempting to deal with some of the most economically, socially, and emotionally disenfranchised individuals in the human service business. Yet, ironically, I have begun to realize that amongst all the cruelties, most people are inherently decent and resilient.

I often feel a deep respect for the courage of ordinary people, the ones who get up every morning and do what needs to be done. Therapists are not miracle workers, nor should we be, but amongst the cruelties we are not helpless. Amid suffering, we can help others by providing adequate resources and wisdom to cope. More so than ever, I have recognized that my role as a social worker is to understand others’ points of views, alleviate what suffering I can, and enhance relationships.

Lastly, as the chapter of my life comes to an end, I believe that I have a responsibility to strengthen families. While families are imperfect institutions, they are also our greatest source of meaning, connection, and joy. As a society, I feel as though we have taken away the belief that families can make it. If we take away that belief, what do we replace it with? If people do not trust their families, who can they trust? Our role as social workers is time limited. Families, not therapist, will be there to solve the problems in the future. It’s important to realize that they have solved many problems in the past without our help.

I chose this career, because ultimately it proves that human beings are strong, resilient, and capable of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. What an empowering frame of mind to have as I approach the trials and tribulations of personal and professional life. As a professor in a previous class stated, “standing up to the intense heat of crisis situations to help people through seemingly unsolvable problems is some of the most gratifying and positively reinforcing work you can do.” Having the confidence and know-how to confront unexpected conflict head on is an invaluable skill to be learned.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work...ROYALS!

Nothing beats sitting in your favorite ballpark, watching your favorite team on a hot, sunny day, with a warm pretzel in one hand (says the non-meat eater…others may contest that pretzel should be replaced with hotdog…start your own blog then…ha) and an ice cold beer in the other. Baseball is in every way perfect; there are no flaws in the sport.

As I sit here, blogging and watching a nail-biter, third game in the series, bottom of the 12th, 4 to 3, Royals game against the A's on television, the anticipation is building. I eagerly await the joy that is America’s beloved past time and the Kansas City Royals Home Opener.  
At the end of Spring Training and the start of the regular season, some believe that the stars have aligned, the pieces are in place, and even despite early injuries the Royals are destined for a decent season…heck Vegas even moved the over/under on season wins for the Kansas City Royals up from 78 1/2 to 80 1/2 games.
As a recent article in the Kansas City Star states, ‘the goals are changing, along with the expectations. There is an air of confidence that’s been missing for years.’

The Royals have been in rebuilding mode since 1990. It’s no exaggeration to refer to the 2012 Royals as an extremely young and talented group. With just five players (Chen, Pena, Quintero, Betancourt, and Bourgeois) on the 25-man roster at least 30 years old, the Royals have assembled a strong core of young major league caliber players and highly ranked prospects.

With one of the youngest line-ups in the majors, I find it very refreshing to read articles that illustrate both the caliber and character of the guys on the team. Their knack for congeniality that reaches beyond the confines of Kauffman Stadium and even Kansas City Royals fans is refreshing.   

Like Aristotle says, ‘Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.’ Below are two articles that highlight the kind-hearted, fun-loving, and energizing personality of one ‘veteran’ player (at the ripe old age of 28), Jeff Francoeur. Perfection may be right around the corner, because it’s obvious our young team is finding pleasure in playing the game.  
Who's the pizza delivery guy? It's Jeff Francoeur

Outfield assist of another kind

Watch out Tigers…this is OUR TIME! ;)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Did I just travel to Paradise...'Yah mon!'

I was recently blessed with an amazing opportunity to travel with Dan for work. He was asked by his company to travel to the Turks and Caicos Islands (a chain of approximately 40 islands (of which 10 are inhabited) located 575 miles southeast of Miami – south of the Bahamas and north of the island of Hispaniola (the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to audit a construction company that is currently working on location in the islands, but are headquartered out of Saint Joseph, Missouri (where Dan’s firm resides).

This trip to paradise had a wavering start, but amplified just how relaxing and beautiful the experience was going to be the moment my feet hit the sand. On Thursday, my day began in Kansas City at 3:30 AM, I was scheduled to take a flight to Atlanta leaving MCI at 5:00 AM. From Atlanta, I had a connecting flight, which would fly me into Providenciales Turks and Caicos. My scheduled arrival in Providenciales WAS SUPPOSED to be 12:48 PM on Thursday, March 22nd. That however did not occur.
The flight leaving Kansas City was delayed due to maintenance, and despite my best efforts (running from the east side of the Georgia airport to the west side…through 5 different terminals to be exact…in a dress…Home Alone style) I missed my connecting flight to the islands.

Two additional flights (one on a completely different airline) and 16 hours later, I arrived in Providenciales at about 9:00 PM. One could have easily become upset with the additional travel hassle and unpredictability of the day, but I was so eager to be on a vacation that even spending a day reading the entire first book of the Hunger Games in a variety of airports was an enjoyable experience.
There are so many details that I want to write about, because I want to savor as many memories as possible and have a descriptive recall of this amazing trip to read in the future, however I am not writing a book, just a blog…so I will keep it ‘short.’

There are many memorable pieces from the trip, but I will highlight the gems.

Turks and Caicos Islands were recently taken over by the British, because prior to 2010 the previous independent government in power was full of ‘corruption.’ They have adapted some British norms, while keeping the customs of the islands. Driving on the left side of the road has been implemented now, however interestingly enough, they operate under American currency (largely because American tourism is the ‘oil’ of their economy). Observing Dan adjusting to driving on the left side of the road, especially around the commonly found 'round-abouts' will be a memory permanently ingrained in my mind. Ha!
Dan and I were very fortunate, because his colleagues at the construction company were locals, their guidance was invaluable. We also became friends with our resort's bar tender, (big surprise there) so he too had suggestions as to where we should visit. They were the ones who told us that given the right atmospheric conditions and a clear sky, a green flash can be observed when the sun is close to a distant horizon and sure enough during our last dinner on the beach, we saw the green flashes streak through the sky. Breathtaking!

Our new found friends were also the ones that suggested that we go conch hunting and to eat at Da Conch Shack. A perfect reminder that there are still places that fresh can mean more than being from the produce section of the grocery store. We ate conch several times while we were there. Though catching the conch and watching the local fisherman create and serve us our very own, impromptu conch ceviche was amazing, my favorite was cracked conch, which despite its name is simply small pieces of conch deep fried (a tastier cousin of the fried calamari appetizer found throughout the U.S.).
On Friday, with our guides Lucky and Darren at the helm, we head out into the deep blue sea for a three hour tour of Iguana Island (the Turks and Caicos rock iguana is a critically endangered species of lizard. Turks and Caicos has 50,000 rock iguanas, the healthiest population of rock iguanas in the Caribbean), snorkeling at the reef and conch hunting.

We head into the sea grass and muddy sea floor just off the shore of an uninhabited island. This is where our tour differs from the usual snorkeling trip as Darren leads us into the water to look for conch. My foreignness was as clear as the turquoise, Caribbean water at this point. Despite the suggestions from our guides, (the gentleman who do this for a living) I decide to not wear my flippers. I thought it would be ‘easier’ to dive under without flippers.

The conch live face down interspersed within the grass, with grass growing directly on their shells to help camouflage them from their predators, including us. It takes great effort to locate these mussels. After a few failed attempts, I decide I rather back float instead so I can take in the gorgeous surroundings, unaware of the powerful current pulling me towards the rear of the boat/onward to Cuba. Ha!

I look up when I over hear another tourist conch hunting asking for help. He had to be thrown a life preserver; because the current had pulled him a significant distance from the boat and he could not get back. When I realized I was currently floating towards him, I figured I should probably begin swimming. Ha! My mind and body were saying SWIM and the current was saying NO YOU WON'T. As Dan recalls the current, “at one point I was swimming as hard as I could, yet the same rock I was looking at through my goggles was not moving away from me.” I am alive, which means I obviously made it back to the boat, but it was one hell of a work out making our way back to safety. Ha-ha!
That evening I ate a scrumptious, wild mushroom risotto in a beautiful outdoor landscaped garden terrace at a swanky restaurant called Lemon.
On Saturday, our day began with music and ended with music. Literally, I woke up to Bob Marley’s voice playing over speakers on the beach (we had a beach side room and slept with our patio doors open each night). The music was coming from our resort’s beach barbecue that takes place every Saturday. Dan enjoyed the Jerk Chicken, while I enjoyed the Rum Punch.

Another, unforgettable memory was when Dan faced his fear of heights and went para sailing with me. Just breathtaking, I will let the pictures convey that experience to you. At one point, we saw a shark, string ray, or barracuda. It was too hard to tell which one it was, because we were 500 feet in the air.
Later in the evening, we ate another delicious meal perched on the shore of Grace Bay Beach at Hemingway's, a beachfront restaurant (that is where we saw the green flash sunset).

We concluded the evening, our last night out in the islands, at Wine Bar. We planned to meet our bar tender/new best friend, James there after his shift ended at our resort. The Wine Bar is a little slice of a big city in the little island community and is a popular hang-out for the locals. It was here that I danced the night away, while Dan observed on the side. Ha-ha! Being the only girl on the dance floor with fair skin made my dance moves even more unforgettable.

Those memories along with several others (watching KU win at a local pub, giving an elderly, local man with amputated toes a ride, buying a Blessed Virgin Mary bracelet from a local woman on the beach, breathtaking hues from inviting waters, the care-free nature and hospitality of the locals, watching two kids marvel at the 4 feet deep hole/sand castle which was created for them to spend hours playing in, the sounds of crashing waves while falling asleep each night, fresh sea food with each meal) are worth a life time. Relaxation was unavoidable and rejuvenation ensured.
Four fast days later, Dan and I had to say goodbye to paradise. As we boarded our plan, a local, older gentleman (who sounded like Louis Armstrong) repeatedly thanked us for visiting (in the most sincere tone imaginable) and I told myself we would be back. That is a promise I intend to keep.

Iguana Island

Male Rock Iguana

 Conch out of it's shell...Dan, who hates sushi ate it too.

                                       Surrounded by sparkling water!
Conch shell discovered on our Conch Hunting excursion.
                                           Picture before dinner at Lemon.
                                                  Sunset outside our patio.

 Para sailing...going up, up, and away.
                                           Our para sailing guides.
                                                   That's us way up there.
                                     The green streaks at sundown. Pretty amazing!
                                               Sunset dinner at Hemingway's.
                                             Wine Bar! Danced the night away.
                                                Proof that Dan para sailed!
Just 'swinging' 500 feet in the big deal.
                                              Para sailing view of the island.
                                                 Da Conch Shack!
                                            Another para sailing view.
View from our patio.

Leisurely reading on the beach.

                                                So sad to have to say goodbye.
                                           Our plane back to the States.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Be an Inspiration!

I had the privilege of attending the “18th Annual Women’s Sports Celebration,” hosted by Win for KC. The banquet featured local, inspirational female athletes. The award winners were chosen because they exemplify the value of sports and fitness –emphasizing both the physical and character building advantages of participating in sports.
The theme of the banquet was “Be an inspiration.” A round of applause goes out to the coordinators of this event, (specially Sarah Dee, an Our Lady’s Montessori Parent/Board Member and WIN for KC’s very own Interim Director) I left the lunch feeling encouraged, motivated, and blessed to have been a witness to such beautiful women.
All of the speakers were of great quality and inspiration, including the Key Note Speaker, Abby Wambach, who was named 2011 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year.
I, however, was inspired most by Frances Neunuebel, who won Price Chopper’s Youth Sports Girl Award. Frances, a local sophomore, was diagnosed with an aggressive, malignant brain tumor. Despite her physical limitations, Frances refused to stop competing in sports, never once did she ask, “Why me, God?” Her attitude was inspiring, positive and faithful, when she responded, “Why not me, God?”
We all face adversity in our lives. The faith, ambition and resiliency of this young lady has inspired me. May I remember that everything happens for me, not to me.

May you be inspired too!  

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Today happened to be my birthday, however life does not just stop for birthdays. Today also was an everyday ordinary, full of activity day. From the moment I stepped into the classroom at 7:30 AM, to the moment I took off my sneakers after my evening run at 10:30 PM, (with a lot of commotion in between) I was as busy as a fish peddler during Lent. Ha! ;)
Another year has come and gone and as I embrace my 26th year of life, I have decided to welcome some recent advice-live in the moment with the appreciation that everything happens for me, not to me.
I was so grateful for the gift of a respite today—for the 30 seconds or a minute or two minutes during which I had no obligations-to read and hear the kind words written in birthday cards, emails, texts and voicemails from friends and family members, to chat with the delightful people I have the privilege of spending each and every day with at work, and to be stopped by more children than I can count for a birthday hug.
Amongst a day filled with activity (work, evening class, evening meeting, dinner with friends, and homework) those small moments can so often get easily overlooked…we then are susceptible of becoming too busy to be a friend, too busy to talk to God, too busy to work out, too busy to work on a relationship, too busy to study, or too busy to stop to receive a hug from a loving child.
God has given me all that I have-my life, my love, my abilities and resources. Count my blessings!
So as I embark on my 26th year of life, I intend to be mindful of and savor such moments throughout my day. By quieting my spirit, taking deep breaths, and humbly asking for enlightenment, I hope to expand, grow, even transform into the ideal self that God has intended me to be and add value to the lives of people around me using my own special talents.

So here’s to waking up tomorrow, just like I did today…feeling happy, glad to start another day and perhaps hour by hour I can continue to discover some new blessings that are headed my way. Thank you to everyone who contributed in one of the most rewarding birthdays yet.
Birthday Cake from my dad with the following card: "To hell with yogurt! Nuts to beans! Tofu sucks and so do greens. It's time to take a well-earned break...screw the carbs and hit the cake."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"I had a dream that everything was normal again."

 “As with any disaster there is invariably an attempt to fix blame. If blame can be fixed, then people may start to believe that the impossible, out-of-control, insane, unbelievable, chaotic, and unfathomable event can be contained, made sense of as to the reasons it occurred, and a sense of control regained as to what went wrong and how it can be made right next time.”
Tonight in my crisis intervention class we discussed disaster relief and while it is expected rightly or wrongly, that there will be disasters in other countries, we Americans often live with the “cannot happen” in our country mentality. We pride ourselves in “controlling” our destiny. Despite our determination, significant disasters have happened and continue to happen, the despairing aftermath of such events continue to have ever-lasting effects on various systems (individuals, families, schools, churches, neighborhoods, mental health agencies, state and national agencies, dept. of homeland security, national professional organizations, and international professional organizations) throughout the United States.
This is not an exposition about who’s to blame or what’s to blame, but after watching a documentary titled Katrina’s Children, which reveals that life is still not back to normal for many children several years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, our nation must do better. After media coverage ends and time moves forward into the next years, we often assume the crisis has been solved. When in reality the slow recovery continues to leave many people, particularly children behind.

The stories, drawings, animations, perceptions, and insightfulness of the beautiful children throughout the film help us to understand the tragic ramifications in a small intimate way. If you have the opportunity, take a look at their empowering stories. They're sure to inspire you.  

“KATRINA'S CHILDREN is a feature-length documentary about nineteen children from different neighborhoods of New Orleans. Told entirely from the children's point of view, the film explores the impact of Hurricane Katrina on their lives. Aching with sadness, yet grounded in hope, KATRINA'S CHILDREN is ultimately a celebration of children's extraordinary resilience and a tribute to New Orleans' unique and indomitable spirit.”