The time is NOW!

We all have dreams, ambitions, goals, and hopes for our futures. Then why aren’t we ALL living the lives we want to live? 

There are no easy answers to this question. However, so many of us aren’t even trying. We have given up before we really got started. It’s easy to give reasons for not moving in the directions of our dreams; it’s much harder to give reasons for chasing what we know deep down is our true path. 

“Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.” –Les Brown

 
It’s true, so many of us do not try because we are afraid. It is up to us, as individuals, to break free from that fear. To challenge ourselves to stand up to whatever is holding us back. To look fear in its face and say, “I will not let you stop me!” 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” –Steve Jobs

Let us break free from others’ way of thinking and carve our own path. I go to work. I work hard and put in my time. I earn a paycheck that helps pay the bills. In essence, I am working hard at fulfilling someone’s else’s dream. Some people are ok with this, and that is perfectly fine. But for others, it leaves them with a hole, an empty feeling. If you are one of these people, like myself, it’s time to take a good hard look at where you want to be in life. Then, make a decision to go after it! 

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. –Chinese Proverb

So what are we waiting for? It’s time to stand up and say, I’m tired of living someone else’s dream, I’m tired of putting my dreams on hold, I’m tired of listening to other people say I can’t do it, I’m tired of letting life pass by and not really participating, I’m tired of having this burning desire inside my soul and watching it slowly slip away and die, I’m tired…

The time is now folks. Let’s make a decision to be who we are meant to be!

Helping Students Learn To Enjoy Reading

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The following is an article I wrote for The Dexter Daily Statesman; which is our local newspaper. Even though the events are localized, the message is universal. If we make reading enjoyable for our children, they will become better learners. Better learners become more successful in all aspects of thier lives. This was a very successful program conducted at one of our local schools. 

Students at Richland Elementary enjoy National Young Readers Week

  It was fun with a purpose last week as books, food, and camping gear filled the halls and classrooms of Richland Elementary during National Young Reader’s Week. Teachers, administrators, staff, and students worked hard preparing for the week-long event, which included free reading time, a “read and feed”, guest readers, a “campout”, plays, games, and other fun reading-based activities. 

   The idea of National Young Reader’s Week was conceptualized in 1985 when the son of the Pizza Hut Company president was having difficulty reading. The boy’s father encouraged him to read a certain number of books and would set weekly reading goals for his son.  When that goal was met, he would reward him with his favorite food; which was, of course, pizza! From that experience, the Book-It program was born. In the Book-It program, a student’s teacher sets a monthly reading goal for each student in the classroom. Once a child has reached his or her goal, they recieve a certificate for a free Personal Pan pizza from Pizza Hut. Today, the program reaches about 14 million students in 38,000 elementary schools annually across the nation and runs every school year from October through March. Locally, Dexter Pizza Hut Manager Natalie Metcalf says that from 100 to 150 students bring their certificates in to recieve their free pizza each week during the five month period. That is over 2000 pizzas annually from the Dexter restaraunt alone. Metcalf also says they have added a “Book-It Yearbook” for the 2013-2014 program. “Students can come in and sign the yearbook showing their accomplishment,” said Metcalf. The Book-It program was conducted by Pizza Hut for four years before partnering with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and in 1989, they introduced National Young Reader’s Week to schools across the country. The idea is to help children read because they want to instead of reading because they have to, and the Richland staff couldn’t agree more. 
  
  “Reading is the foundation of learning,” said Lori Anderson, who teaches 5th and 6th grade English Language Arts and Social Studies at Richland. “The better and more willing a student is to read, the better their chances of success in all areas of academics.” The teachers and staff at Richland worked hard to produce a “reading atmosphere” that was educational and fun for the students. 

  “As educators, I believe it is our responsibility to help create life-long learners.” Said Richland Elementary principal Cara Merritt. “Life-long learners eagerly seek new knowledge and understand the importance of education. Good readers become good learners.” Creating a fun atmosphere while practicing reading, encourages students to read on their own. “I often tell the kids that reading is a skill like shooting a basketball, throwing a baseball, or even playing a video game. If you continue to practice, chances are you will get better.” And there was plenty of practicing going on at Richland. 

  The reading week began with everyone getting into the reading mode with a “free read”. Students were encouraged to select a book of their choice. They were then allowed time to get comfortable and read by themselves.
 
  “The students enjoyed being able to sit on thier pillows and blankets and read anywhere in the room,” said fourth grade teacher Kathy Roberts. It was a great way to lead the students into the fun week that awaited them. On Tuesday, teachers led an ever-popular “Read and Feed”. Which is much like the “free read” with an added element…FOOD! Students were able to curl up with a good book, a bowl of popcorn, and a soda. Wednesday was “Round Up a Good Book” day. The students dressed in their favorite Western attire while the staff brought in guest readers to read to the students in the classrooms. These “VIP” readers included teachers, moms, grandmas, and even Jo Jo the Clown, who visited Lindy Parker’s kindergarten classroom to read and perform a few magic tricks. 

  The highlight of the week seemed to be the “campout” on Thursday. Tents were set up in a designated area of the school. Each tent contained a fake campfire, laterns, decorative camping lights, lawn chairs, and flashlights. Artificial trees and real leaves were scattered throughout the area and nature sounds were even played in the background, creating a life-like forest atmosphere. Smore’s were also given out to each student. The week wrapped up on Friday with the students in grades 3-6 performing plays based on some of the student’s favorite stories and reading to the younger students. In addition to all of these fun reading activities, the High School Library Club members read aloud to each class and excerpts from well-known books were read over the intercom at random times throughout the week.  For this activity, the students were asked to guess which book the excerpt was from. The class with the most correct answers received a prize. 

   “It was very rewarding seeing the students respond the way they did,” said Anderson. “Some of the students in my class were even reading during recess and lunch…very rewarding.”

  “This week was very successful,” added Merritt. “I overheard kids in the hallway talking about books, students were asking me about books, and we even had some students ask their parents to bring some of thier own personal favorites to school.” 

  When asked about the success of the week, Title 1 Reading Coach Karen Brown said, “Working with the teachers on a project such as this is exciting to me. The teachers really got excited and worked hard putting it together. Then, to see the kids get so excited and so involved with reading makes it all worthwhile. We are already thinking of ideas for next year!”

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Selflessness for our nation: the Jones family

In May of 2004, Sgt. Cody Jones was deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF5) with the 2nd Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment out of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii to help in the fight against terrorism. He would be gone for one long year before returning to his duty station in May of 2005. During this time, he had to leave his wife Carlie and young son Austin, who had moved to Missouri during his deployment. It was a difficult time for Cody and his family. Carlie recalls leaning on Cody’s grandparents, Ardeth and Juanita Jones, for support; and Austin, being very young, did not really know what was going on. It has been nearly ten years since that deployment and two more children have been added to the ranks of the Jones family, Avvie and Gracie, and they recently received word that Cody will be going back to Afghanistan for nine more months.

Cody is no stranger to the military lifestyle. He joined the Army after graduating High School in 2000. After basic training and Advanced Infantry Training, or AIT, he was stationed in Hawaii for four months before going to Louisiana for one month of training. Then he met Carlie, and the two were married in November of 2001. In September of 2005, after his return from Afghanistan in May, Cody received his honorable discharge from the Army. Then, on July 4, 2007, joined back with the Missouri Army National Guard and has been in ever since, working in Cape Girardeau, with the 1140th Engineer Battalion. In November, he will start working with the 220th Engineer Company (Horizontal) out of Festus, Missouri, preparing for his next deployment with them in the summer of 2014.

“It’s hard,” says Cody about being away from his family, “It’s a lot of give and take. I’m gone about two weeks out of every month now.” That is in addition to his upcoming mobilization training and deployment, when he will not see his family for eleven long months. However, Cody says his family is “strong and supportive” and his wife Carlie “is a very strong military spouse, and without her I would not have the successful military career I have today. She is the backbone that keeps this family upright and strong.” says Cody. “When I am away, she has to be the mother and father, the wife and husband, and she has to keep this household running.”“It’s never easy,” says Carlie. “I want him here… but you get used to it. The hardest part is the kids. I knew what I was getting into when I married Cody, I chose this lifestyle. The kids didn’t, but we are a strong family and we handle it the best we can. The kids are older now, so they understand more. But they are very strong and I gain strength from them. They know we do this because their Dad is helping people…and that it is a good thing.” Cody and Carlie seem to have it figured out; which, unfortunately, is not true for many military families.

“A lot of them don’t make it,” says Cody. “You see a lot of separation and divorce in military families.”  Cody and Carlie attribute all of their success to a strong support group. Whether it is friends and family, military groups, or their church community, someone is there for them if they need it.

Fortunately for the Jones family, there are some differences concerning Cody’s upcoming deployment and the one nearly ten years ago. Communications have greatly improved in recent years. Soldiers are now able to use the Internet and satellite communication more frequently, including applications like Skype and Facetime; which allow users to actually see each other. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are also more accessible. Cody’s job duties are slightly less dangerous this time around as well, “The first time I went, I was in the Infantry, as a team leader. So I pretty much spent the whole time kicking in doors. This time I’ll be pretty much sitting in an office. I’ll be the supply guy. I’ll be making sure everyone has the beans and bullets…making sure everyone has what they need.” However, being away from the family is still very hard. The sacrifices military families like the Jones’ make cannot be overstated. Hard work, often difficult and dangerous living conditions, and countless hours away from loved ones make the military lifestyle a difficult one, but when asked if he could imagine any other way of life, Cody responded, “No! I’ve tried it. It’s like being on a football team. Even if sometimes we don’t get along…we know we have each other’s back. It’s a tight knit brotherhood. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Thanks to Cody and his family, and many like them, we can enjoy the freedom we experience here on American soil. We can have the rights and liberties that are granted to us by our Constitution. So, I hope I can speak for all Americans when I say thanks to Cody and the rest of the Jones family, and to all service men and women and their families, for making the sacrifices that you make to keep us safe and free.

Thank you

 

The Reason I Write

I almost always wear a hat because I am bald. 

This is a reality and a metaphor. 

Why do we sometimes try to hide who we truly are? I have always known I am a writer. However, until recently, very few people knew this. I’ve always hidden this important fact about myself. 

I write to express myself. To let my true personality shine through. To show who I truly am. I sometimes feel this is the only way people will know the real me. 

Why do you write?

 

Part Two: Live the Life You Were Meant to Live

As I mentioned in the previous post, it is important to gain as much joy and knowledge from every situation as possible. The more we can do this, the more fulfilling our lives become. By doing this, you can become content in any situation.

However, I do not believe we are meant to live merely a contented lifestyle. I believe we are meant to live an extraordinary one.

So the goal moves beyond finding contentment. We must live our dreams.

Recently, my wife and I have taken a long, hard look at our lives. We have decided that, even though we have a good life, it is not exactly the way we want to live.

So why not enjoy the life we are living but also tweak it to make it the extraordinary life we always dreamed of?

We are now in the process of planning the next stage of our lives. A stage that will be more aligned with our dreams. In our case, it will take a lot of time and planning, but the result will be well worth it. And I believe we will learn a lot about ourselves in the process.

I encourage anyone who is not completely and utterly exultant about their lives, to dig deep within themselves to find out why. Once you have answered that question, you can begin changing your circumstances and align them with your dreams. And YES, you DO have the power to do that.

Make a decision to go after whatever it is that makes you complete and do not let anyone or anything stand in your way.

I believe you will find that the journey will be just as rewarding as the destination.

Sometimes we have to make big changes to begin to live the lives we were meant to live. Often, we have to change our surroundings, our jobs, and our circumstances; but it all starts with a change of attitude. Once you have he correct mindset, the rest will more easily fall in place.

Believe you can make the best life possible for yourself. That is the first step. Believe it, then go get it!!

Live The Life You Were Meant To Live

We have all heard this:
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
So cliche, so old, so overused, and yet so true.
I believe it is important to pull inspiration and fulfillment from every possible situation. Even when things seem dismally bleak, we can search deep within ourselves to learn and grow.
Sometimes it’s very easy to gain inspiration and joy from a situation or event. A magnificent fireworks display, a beautiful sunset on the beach, or the birth of a child. These are the moments that remind us to live the life we are supposed to live, and to discover those moments in everything, so they become our life.
I remember going to the lake often with my family as a kid. Most of the time, the weather was pleasant. It was easy to have a good time swimming and enjoying the sunshine. However, there was one time it rained, forcing us to take cover. I can still remember standing under a pavilion by the swimming area with a towel around my shoulders. I was watching the dark clouds roll in. The sound of the pattering of rain on he roof, the distant peals of thunder, and the familiar smell of the ionized air, took me to a different place. It was relaxing and surreal. A whole different experience to a familiar occurrence. To this day, when everyone else is grumbling about a summer rain shower, I welcome it.
The death of my father was a terrible event in my life. He was one of the extremely few people that are on a higher level of endearment to me. He died at an early age; which isn’t fair. However, through all of that pain and sadness, I realized this: Death is a release. I won’t pretend to know for sure what happens to our soul when we die, but I know it lives on, somewhere. And that place is much better than the pain of suffering through the unrelenting, unmerciful, agonizing destruction in the wake of Melanoma skin cancer. He isn’t suffering anymore. So, I find a sense of peace.
Not all moments are ideal. However, we can often gain insight and knowledge from the worst of them. We can find peace in dismal situations. We can can learn and become better people.
So keep your head up. Seek those moments that take your breath away. Search them out and grab them, hold on tight, and squeeze every ounce of joy from their overflowing fountains. And search for knowledge and inspiration from those moments that tug on your patience and contentment.
After all, we have one life to live. And sometimes it’s easy to fall into despair during trying times. But if we learn to live, to truly live like we are meant to, to extract all the inspiration and understanding from every situation, the road of life becomes clearer and more navigable; and we can then, more thoroughly enjoy those moments that take our breath away.
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