Lesson Plans, Literature, and Action!

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One of several thank you cards

At last, a 12-week immersion as a high school English Literature, English Language, and a writing instructor has come to an end. My former school, at which I served as a teacher and assistant principal, used my services during a teacher’s maternity leave. It was great to be back in the classroom. Yet, with also working both days of the weekend on my other pursuits, I’d only had 4 days off prior to Thanksgiving weekend.

Since the absent teacher never attempted to contact me or oversee what I was doing with her charges, I was free to modify the curriculum. However, I requested the administration to provide syllabi previously used. The chance to delve into classics like Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” James Baldwin’s “Notes of a Native Son,” and Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” were treats, as I’d never read them before. However, it was nostalgic to re-visit Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter because I’d had it as the main piece of literature in my own high school junior year.

Working with students for their AP English Language course brought studies in grammar, rhetoric, and a slew of literary devices I’d not previously been acquainted with, but I captured a greater appreciation for the structure and strategies used in oral and written communication. We also explored the classical appeals of Aristotle, Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” and tactics used by advertisers to influence consumers. Yet, with all these great learning adventures and getting to know and work with my wonderful students, the most exciting result from my teaching term was the chance to make movies!

When we were about halfway through with it, in order to challenge the students with relating the psychosocial dynamics of Hawthorne’s novel, they collaborated via small groups of 5-6 to write modern-day versions of the tale. Upon completion of their stories, they were given the opportunity to vote for continuing the novel along more conventional means of assessment or to cultivate new skills in creating a film. I’d explained that it would entail storyboarding, costumes, props, filming, stage direction, and editing. Of three classes participating in voting through secret ballots, the two honors classes chose to tackle the film project. After starting down this process though, three students requested to not opt for doing the film, so I’d written separate lesson plans for them throughout the 3 weeks that the other students scurried about the school to find settings where they could film. We’d even explored green screen filming, as having school stairwells was often the only place that they could shoot.

I’ll admit that I spent a good portion of their periods popping into monitor their arguments, noting that sometimes they were getting attention because in the boy groups one had to play Hester, and in the girl groups some had to assume the male roles of Rev. Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. There were times when they’d have to suspend their filming in the hallways when troops of elementary kids traversed their path to go to prayer or the library. Favors were requested of teachers for their tolerance of my students’ intrusions to request props they’d spied within classrooms, using the Main Office counter and reception windows to simulate a hotel desk, getting knowledge on how to use an SLR camera for recording, and to request administration to allow some of the girls to wear abayas instead of school uniforms to speed up getting into costume each day. At times, I’d wondered if they’d be able to make the deadline I’d set the day before my final day there, but I saw the overall happiness, true engagement, and ownership the students invested in their projects.

The leadership of some students rose as they directed, social skills evolved as one student who normally showed little responsive affect was transformed through his peers coaching him on how to be a leading man. As part of the movie script, one of the students actually gave another a greatly fashionable haircut, and I saw them beam in brotherly solidarity. Girls who had seemingly opposite personalities at first clashed, but then came together as great actors.

Then one day, an obviously very bright, but undermotivated, student stopped by my desk before leaving and said, “Miss, I just want you to know that now I really like coming to school.” My heart melted, then felt sad that it implied that he normally did not like school, and finally I determined whatever the outcome, this crazy venture was worthwhile.

The students’ films varied in the final analysis from Good to Awesome. On our final day together, I’d asked them to please give me a reflection and feedback on how I could support them better if I were ever to do this again. They confirmed what I knew in that there should have been interim goals and milestones established. Now I know what those should be. We really did not appreciate the value of detailed storyboarding until the shooting began. At times I saw students doing numerous re-shoots of scenes, and I’d tell them to leave it, edit later, and move on to the next scene. If I were to do it again, I’d create a rubric that specifies more about required storyboard elements, the expectations for sound effects, music, a shooting schedule, and a standard for opening and closing segments.

Overall, I’d describe this though as one of the most daring and successful experiences. Prior to the start, I’d taken the time to build trust; know my students; openly admit that I’d not tried this with any class before, but that I would help them learn something new in creating their own film.

In 12 weeks, my intention was to move the bar forward for these students in my charge. Working with commitment, integrity, and diligence, and I am gratified when I see it reciprocated in my students’ efforts. Being a teacher is not easy, but never underestimate the impact you can have, hopefully for good.

Next, I’m scheduled for some foot surgery which will involve some bone cutting…. Wearing a special boot, I’ll be creating 2 education presentations for the MAS-ICNA Convention in Chicago the last week in December. Also, as programming chairperson for the ISNA Education Forums, I will be presenting in Costa Mesa, CA January 18-19 and Chicago April 19-21, God willing.

Meanwhile, as I convalesce, I have my iPad Kindle loaded with books and will be listening to piano adagios. 😉

Choosing Joy in Teaching

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Credit: Anton Yankovyi

Choosing Joy
Returning to the classroom has had some interesting moments, a flawed lesson plan, a student’s epiphany, another student who refused to be on-task, and many young minds exposed to new vocabulary, new ideas, and academic rigor.

My enthusiasm for a video, related to a class I am teaching for high school students, is on the state of Native Americans’ lives in South Dakota, Generation Red Nation, and it resulted in me not preparing an accompanying handout with questions about the content, as teachers typically proactively design for students to complete during videos. While I sat riveted and fully attentive to multiple viewings of the film, a few students simply could not relate and chose other distractions while I fumed at my failure to prepare adequately for this scenario.

Yes, even experienced teachers can have a failed lesson. My students could not identify with the people in the video. Therefore, they missed the nuanced messages I’d intended for them to capture; such as, what does this say about preserving one’s heritage in America, and how can Native Americans be disenfranchised in their own land? How can the adjustment to a fast city life be a challenge for people coming from a more slow-paced culture and other insights. These questions were a set up for Crevecoeur’s essay, “What Is an American?”

In another class, through studying Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, it was a thrilling moment to witness a student’s epiphany as she discovered for herself the symbolism of comparing the high quality, almost artistic description, of a repast at the all-male Oxbridge with “soles, sunk in a deep dish, over which the college cook had spread a counterpane of the whitest cream…. And …the wineglasses had flushed yellow and flushed crimson…”,versus the fare at all-female Fernham College where was served, “…beef with its attendant greens and potatoes—a homely trinity, suggesting the rumps of cattle in a muddy market, and sprouts curled and yellowed at the edge….”

The life of a teacher is filled with many ups and downs; and even though I consult and present workshops for classroom management, I know there can always be a student or even an entire class that can make a teacher feel that they are wrestling a seal in an oil pit.

A humbling moment came when I was reading a passage to the class as they were to duplicate the annotations I’d made. This was a lesson in doing annotations while reading some dense material. One student chose to poke his neighbor with a pencil eraser persistently under the desk and not do a single annotation. Nor would he abide when I informed him that I would not tolerate his disruptions. For I keep it simple by clarifying with my classes that I give much leeway to their class culture, but “If you do anything to disrupt my teaching, or anything to disrupt another student’s learning, we have a problem.” This student, receiving a fair warning, and a promise of my documentation, was no longer a disruptive force…to date. Sometimes just a firm acknowledgment with a no-nonsense attitude will suffice.

As a teacher, it is important to be a futurist, to have a sense for what preparation is required to design students’ education and mindset for their near future. Since my trip to Dubai where a colleague shared the Government in 2071 Guidebook, I have seen several YouTube videos of speeches given at the corresponding World Government Summit 2017 event. Tomorrow, several classes will enjoy and respond to a content checklist and argumentative essay about if the modern obsession with being cool adversely affects American’s readiness to stay competitive in technological advances. They have read an essay today and will view Michio Kaku’s video from Dubai’s World Government Summit 2017 as a catalyst for their piece. I like this video so much that I will share it with my own family and heartily suggest it to readers. I’m very much looking forward to our exchange of perspectives and hope to plant the seeds of motivation and inspiration in them. Recognizing that teachers have an undeniable capacity to positively influence students, in my short four-month assignment, I plan to raise them higher. Such challenges, as there are in teaching dynamic youth, brings me joy.

 

Back to School for American Literature

img_0125Back to School
The students returned this day. I was summoned a week ago to substitute for 12 weeks to teach several courses in high school Honors American Literature, AP English Language, and writing instruction. Although the home painting projects will be delayed, I’m thrilled to be back at my former school and recognized some students I worked with a few years ago on another long-term substituting assignment. It gives a special feeling to see them again and note how they’ve grown.

The chance to immerse in classic writings from some literary greats is exciting. I don’t recall, probably because it was so long ago if I had truly engaged with some of them before. Yet, others, like Edgar Allen Poe, were certainly on my syllabus when I was a student. Somehow, although I do not deny there is value in exploring these works with students at this point in the journey of their lives, I expect that I will relish the craft of writing more as a mature reader.

Returning back to school also implies adapting to a new school environment. My classroom is in the new school annex and has student desks which form collaborative clusters rather nicely. Granted, my students are mostly upperclassmen, but I never had desks that welcome such creative methods, and research bears out that the classroom design lends much to the learning process. This, I reminded myself as I balanced on a student chair to reach the upper limits of the classroom bulletin board while struggling to not crinkle the heck out of the large roll of colorful paper I was stapling to secure.

To celebrate our first half day, I utilized murder mysteries whereby student groups received thirty clues and had to decipher the identity of the murderer, time, place, weapon, and motive. Through this brief challenge, I was able to discern who were the leaders, how comfortable some students were, and which ones seemed more reserved.

Then I noted among each section, that only in the single average-leveled course there was a decidedly unmotivated, learned helplessness attitude among the group, and some were quite proficient to use their voices in lieu of their grey matter to sabotage the industrious brainwork I’d hoped to ignite. Therein lies the challenge for me! I will have to delicately work to nudge this group toward achievement with small successes that will build trust and hopefully yield the satisfaction of accomplishment. As this is a pattern I have seen in a tracked curriculum, I know how to override this; the solution is to meet the students where they are at. For if you don’t have your students’ trust and confidence, they will hesitate to risk not being “cool” in the presence of their peers.

Well, back to writing syllabi and detailed lesson plans for the week ahead on a Friday night because I’m juggling other work projects which gives me no days off, except for Eid al-Adha into November. Happy reading!

A Matter of Heart (broken) and Soul

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Who can deny the favors of your Lord? Qur’an: Surah Al-Rahman

Insomnia rarely affects me, but I’d worked at an outdoor summer market, napped, and then drank too much coffee in the evening. Catching up on news regarding the over 11,400 children separated from their parents and guardians by government and accomplice profiteers, I just could not stop ruminating grief.

Adding to and compounding lament, members of my social media community are split over if engaging in dialogue and seeking to understand opponents’ resolve regarding the occupation of Palestine is conducive to peace or just succumbing to their propaganda. I recall that once when reading an English translation of the Torah, I concluded that it is understandable that opponents’ motivations could seem justified if only based on the belief that the tome was legitimate and not altered. Therein lies what may be one significant factor in the conflict.

Are the scriptures authentic and uncorrupted or not? Because if each side contends that their scripture is divinely inspired, and yet they conflict, someone bears the onerous guilt of causing generations of huge suffering.

Lately, I’ve been making analogies between our corrupt, unrepentant, arrogant, cruel, and chronically adulterous political leadership and ancient Egypt’s Pharaoh, who was abased by God. I pray for those suffering the scourge to be relieved and given justice.

Yesterday, at the market where a Latino family was perusing our wares, a cute, little two-year-old wearing Minnie Mouse ears, peered at me and waved bye-bye. She was scrumptiously adorable, so of course I reciprocated with a gentle twinkle in my eye, secret-like smile, and baby waved back. She melted me.

As I’d read and saw videos about the abducted immigrant children, heard their cries and pathetic wailing, glimpsed at toddlers’ images behind tinted glass, and read about some being possibly trafficked, I thought about who could condone and fuel such horrible acts? Have we, as a nation, lost our hearts? How could I sleep?

At the end of Ramadan Eid al-Fitr prayer recently, the imam reminded the congregation, “If you sleep in your home tonight feeling safe and secure, you are among the lucky few in the world.” He was so right.

And yet, when all seems hopeless, I look for what may be the Creator’s plan. Perhaps it is for good people of faith or no faith to recognize the need to see ourselves not as different, but unified. Even those Muslims who are dividing over the willingness to dialogue with those associated with the prosecution of the Palestinian people are maybe following the right course.

For as long as people perceive each other as less than equal humans, we can “other” the other and deny them respect or even consideration. We will remain divided and not see the reality that we are all humans sharing our destiny on earth.

It was narrated that al-Nu’man ibn Basheer said: The Messenger of Allah said: “The likeness of the believers in their mutual love, mercy, and compassion is that of the body; when one part of it is in pain, the rest of the body joins it in restlessness and fever.” This hadith was verified by both scholars, al-Bukhari and Muslim.

There are members of humanity able to correct those living in poverty, political instability, and in unsafe environments that are NOT doing what they can to alleviate the suffering of other souls. This too will be a testimony against them, and we will remember.

The Rat Pack

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Photo: Rogelio A. Galaviz C.

“The Rat Pack” came to be known as the team of five well-known entertainers: Frank Sinatra; Dean Martin; Sammy Davis, Jr.; Peter Lawford; and Joey Bishop. Many of today’s young people have no clue of who they were, except perhaps for Sinatra, but to me they represented an era of the mellow early 60’s.
Although I was a child and recall civil rights struggles of those times, I associate The Rat Pack with my beloved maternal uncles. They were medical professionals and successful entrepreneurs who gave me a sense of belonging and security. Each had their work, but also leisure time to appreciate the bonds of family.
I’m musing as I wait for a flight to Dallas where I will present “Learning by Choice and Discovery”, and The Rat Pack remind me that we have forgotten the value of play. Self-care is a popular term, but we’re usually too busy to do it!
My uncles’ lives seemed to have a balance of golf, flying planes, playing cards, family time, and work; and I don’t know if they had less stress or just managed it better, but times seemed easier, at least to my young mind.
Have our stressed-out lives killed the benefits of play? If we examine the Finnish schools, they give “brain breaks” to students every 45 minutes. They don’t seem to have issues with hyperactive and disruptive students. Finns give 5-week modules in a variety of skills and have recently dropped the silos of “subjects”; instead, they have opted for more thematic and interdisciplinary approaches to education.
Becoming a teacher in Finland is considered an honor, as they tend to be in the top 10% of their class, and upon deciding that they wish to teach, must study their subject specialty at least to achieve a master’s degree. The students attend school starting at a later age and are at school only 20 hours, so there is more time given for collaboration and evaluation of each student. They only subscribe to ONE standardized exam at the completion of their formal education; that is, ONCE in their compulsory education. Yet, as a nation, the Finns do quite well relative to international competition.
Becoming a teacher involves perpetuating the ethics and trust of the community to help each student discover-through experiences-where their strengths and preferences lie.
Maybe it is the long-delayed ascent of spring, but play seems correlated with happiness, and we have a lot of unhappy, very overstressed adults and young people. It seems that a pill is prescribed for every malady, but it does not provide a cure. Maybe we should give play a turn. Before we forget how.
This weekend is the first halal lifestyle event in America; it is the I Heart Halal Festival at Navy Pier. If you can, check it out and see the many vendors representing food, fashion, finance, personal care products, and travel. After I indulge in the cuisine there of many cultures and collect coupons for brands I’d like to try, I’m taking time to play for 3 days in Wisconsin before buckling myself into new projects. Recharge, reset, and realize the healing that only a connection to nature and its Creator can give.

 

The Year That Dreams Come True

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Sunrise-St. Thomas, USVI

Amid the many sad headlines, I have found a means to fortify my resilience by manipulating mindset through the mantra that this is “the year that dreams come true.”


In retrospect, it started when a one-way flight to Phoenix to find an auction deal on a car for our son resulted in a powder-blue Ford Mustang, which I drove back to Chicago. It sparked a recollection that I’d naively hoped that I’d find a Mustang on my driveway on my 16th birthday. The reality though was that I was the eldest of six in a middle-class family, and I was not even allowed to test for my driver’s license until I was 17 and ready for college. Yet, I enjoyed that ride from Phoenix because the car, the engine, the handling was everything I’d expected. Since then, I repeated that trip to acquire for myself a Mercedes SUV. Chicago winters are particularly caustic to cars, and now mine has no rust.
It occurred to me that through much of my life, I’d put off and delayed many wants and dreams. Whether due to finances, work obligations, or family responsibilities, I realized this year that my mortality could be approaching and I had better start knocking things off my bucket list before I no longer could. Nagging little reminders of my physical limitations were becoming evident too, even with attempts to be athletic. Rust can take many forms.
Realizing that it is through small, consistent habits that great changes are made, I have for over a year, almost daily, been using the Duolingo app to learn Spanish. Granted, I could invest more time and effort to expedite progress, but I have progressed and retained a degree of written comprehension that has benefited my work, and it has advanced my expectation of myself to be somewhat competent in several languages. I admire polyglots and was particularly impressed when my husband and I took our first cruise this year to the Caribbean. The assistant cruise director was completely fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese. The Caribbean has been on my wish list since I was a teenager, and I’m glad that we chose this time after the islands suffered from hurricane damage because one of the excursion vendors said, “Thank you; we haven’t worked in 2 ½ months.”
A cruise was something our son was pushing us to try for over a year. Not sure if I would be an unlucky victim of seasickness, and haunting anxiety of disaster, as influenced by the movies Jaws, The Poseidon Adventure, and Titanic, I delayed making the commitment until we could book the trip with points. During the first 5 minutes of sensing that the ship was moving out of the Port of Miami, I gripped the edge of the dining table, trying to look demure as I struggled to keep down a few bites of salad while listening to my giddy spouse, but I was fine for the entire 7 days.
Even my daughter and her husband joined the bandwagon, and they reserved a shorter cruise; but since their itinerary began before ours, we met them in Fort Lauderdale the day of their return which was also the day of our departure. It was our best adventure and we look forward to more.

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Deira- Old Dubai

It seems like I am cheating winter this year. Shortly after the cruise, I booked a business trip to Dubai to attend the world’s largest halal food trade show along with a colleague. We packed the week with meetings and only had the last day to be tourists whereby we visited a beautiful mosque in neighboring Abu Dhabi and my niece, who also lives in Dubai.

 

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Abu Dhabi, Sh. Zayed Mosque

Our meetings took us to all parts of the city; we fulfilled the dream-come-true-desire to eat camel milk ice cream and drink some deliciously flavored camel milk products, but we did not have time to check out the beach. Regardless, it was a successful trip, and it reconfirmed the value of mindset.

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The Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is greatly admired by the populace, has embarked on a mission to counter the depressive state of the region. The approach is reminiscent of how we educators value positive expectations. He has articulated and set in motion initiatives to bring happiness to the people. And as about 97% of the population are expats, the need for harmony is necessary. As one person told me, “Bad attitudes are not tolerated here.” Even my niece confirmed that she and her husband love living in Dubai. People work hard there, but it is safe. Several stories were shared by various individuals that related how no one steals, even when wallets, phones, and briefcases are left unattended. Doors are not locked, and women and children are given priority seating on public transportation. If men transgress to those seats, they are subject to fines. Women feel safe even at night. Also, I was impressed with the cleanliness of all public areas and noted a robust economy. Eating, drinking, smoking, and chewing gum is not permitted on public transportation. On a Tuesday evening, a mall was bustling with families shopping and dining out. Most malls and restaurants are open quite late, and they do seem to have happy people. It reminded me of the 1970’s when we had a middle class with expendable income.
Before leaving for Dubai, I’d went to Macy’s to buy shoes. To my surprise, only some sizes were available, and the signage indicated that other sizes were only available online. JC Penney only had a limited supply of shoes as well. It was opposite to when Gorbachev was amazed to see the quality and quantity of produce in our grocery stores under the Reagan regime. That was a time of prosperity, and no one can convince me that what was then is now. No one seems to be calling it, especially since the 1% is doing so marvelously, but the rest I believe are struggling. Even our young people who may be doing well if they are gainfully employed may have anvils of debt that will burden them and prevent their progress for a very long time.
The headlines are troubling here, but Asia is rising and the global economy is growing. Isolationism and protectionism have never benefited anyone long term. History students know that, but our leadership apparently never studied or retained such lessons.
Positive mindset and people working toward a better global society, albeit with certain challenges, give hope. Read this pdf! Government in 2071: Guidebook It is a guide by which educators and policymaker should study.
A reason we chose to attend the Dubai Gulfood trade show was that although we see data reflecting prospering halal industries abroad, particularly in Europe and Asia, there is scant evidence of it here. Yet at this trade show, there were 163 U.S. exhibitors. When we spoke with them, it was clear that they were there to solicit business for export, but some of the largest expressed no interest to produce halal products or label them here in the U.S. We found it sad and felt a bit angry.

Since we were among trusted locals, we asked them about how they perceived the U.S. under the current administration. Frankly, they said, “Well, we feel that since you voted for him, you deserve him” (though I did not). For although they follow our news, we are just too far and removed to even care about. Bigger and better news is happening elsewhere. We have lost our former status and influence.

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A reflective moment…

Meanwhile, I’m going back to making this the year that dreams come true, as I’ll be sharing my vision for education and steps that teachers can take to help students prepare for the future this April in Dallas and Chicago.

 

3 1/2 Catalysts for Energy to Serve

Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_olegdudko'>olegdudko / 123RF Stock Photo</a> 3 ½ Catalysts for Energy to Serve
Ah, the marriage of handwriting to paper! The powerful impact, potential, and pleasure derived from it will never die. Writing, that is, inspired writing takes a certain energy that comes from one’s creative core.
My writing serves in various forms. There is the technical, research-based type that I reserve for Halal, Education, and Entrepreneurial publications, and the introspective form which taps wisdom and fancies of my own grey matter preserved here in my blog. Through these, I share knowledge of the sacred and sometimes profane.
Yet, with the daily routines, work projects, and hiccups that disrupt the calm–often involving family–energy reserves are easily depleted. Even with the best intentions, sometimes it feels like one is hauling a bag of cinder blocks just to get over the finish line each day.
Energy management became a focus from when I was a school administrator, and there were three main catalysts I found to be effective:
1a) Get enough sleep – My husband is a confirmed night owl, and I like to stay awake to share time with him. Whether we have our noses glued to our phones or iPads, watching Netflix, or preparing merchandise for sale, we are either working or relaxing together most evenings. I’m blessed to start and finish most days with him.
1b) Catch a reset nap – On days when fasting, when my fitness tracker confirms that I have had less than 6 ½ hours of sleep, or when I’m dragging and need to “reset” and refresh my brain, it is frankly good time management to nap a bit. Normally, I’ll average around 7 hours most nights that power me through a whole day; but on days when I can reboot with a nap, I move and think much faster and efficiently. That compensates for the time to nap.
2) Do something “Fun” – Knocking out a quick win on a game app, doing a few deep breaths while lifting dumbbells (strong women stay young, right?), getting outside for fresh air, listening to a few upbeat dance tunes, or drawing a line through the easiest thing on my ubiquitous list of “to do” activities is “fun” for me.
What do you do if you must do something that’s not “fun”? Just chip away at it until it’s complete, even if it means doing a bit each day so that you maintain focus through its execution.
3) Check your intentions – Last spring, when I was knocked down with a bout of the flu, I just didn’t feel my energy to be strong enough to want to get out of bed. My symptoms had mostly resolved; yet, I simply did not feel like I was ready to jump back into life. Then I saw a vision board I’d made that reminded me of the “me” I aspired to be, and miraculously that sparked my “why.” The reasons I needed to be athletic, healthy, strong, skilled, giving, loving, and available to serve were what set me back on my course.
It is easy to forget that we are destined to be great. We are given opportunities to grow and share; we enjoy blessings and endure sorrows and challenges. We are human, with all the faults and chances to experience the regeneration of our compassion, to celebrate our lives.

Share some of your energy hacks.