Monday, November 16, 2015

An Interview With Teenage Author Madelyn Spindler

Imagine writing your first novel when you are only eleven years old. Image publishing your third before you're even half way through high school. That's what seventeen year old Madelyn Spindler did. Madelyn teamed up with her mom, Rebecca Williams Spindler, to write the middle grade novel, Sara Jane is a Pain, when she was still in middle school. The daughter/mother duo went on to write two more novels in what would become The Tale of Two Sisters series.

What's cool about this three-book series is that the characters, Liz McCormick and her older sister Sara Jane, grow up throughout the books, just like Madelyn did. The character of Liz is eleven in the first book. In Life According to Liz, the protagonist experiences her twelfth birthday and she’s losing her disgust for boys. In Moving Out and Moving On, Liz deals with the emotions, both positive and negative, of seeing her older sister head off to college. Madelyn herself, a senior at Verona (Wisconsin) High School, is now collecting acceptance letters to college.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Madelyn Spindler via email about her writing process, her life outside of writing, and her plans for the future. Take a look at what this amazing young author has to say.

You have written and published three books for tweens with your mom, Rebecca Williams Spindler. How did that happen?

Madelyn:  My mom and I have always had a passion for writing. During elementary school, she would write her short stories/screenplays/novels while I would work on my own short stories too. By the time I reached a mature level with my writing, my mom thought it would be fun if we wrote a book together. We weren't sure what to write about at first, but I suggested writing something cheerful and optimistic because all of the books that I was assigned to read in middle school were a bit gloomy and depressing. I missed reading light-hearted literature. Then my mom brought in her childhood experiences with her little sister (who was a complete opposite ), while I applied my current experiences with middle school and together we created a story about a girl in middle school who is the complete opposite of her older sister. Each book took roughly a year to write, so by the time the third book was published I had just completed my freshman year of high school. We took a lot of time out of our weekends to write this. There were times right after school to when my mom and I would sit down and write a chapter. I can't do that anymore with my loads of homework today.  : (

What is it like writing with your Mom? How do you actually do it?

Madelyn:  Writing with my mom had its ups and downs. It was helpful to collaborate on our ideas and make them even better, but there were certain times where we would argue which idea for a chapter was better. During the first two books, we would plot out a general outline for each chapter and then my mom and I would branch off and write on specific chapters. In the third book, we alternated chapters where I would write in the perspective of the younger sister (who was close to my age) while my mom wrote in the perspective of the older sister and the parents. Then we would meet back up again and make sure the structure of the story flowed.

How did you first get published? Do you have an agent?

Madelyn:  At first we were scanning through publishing companies and we spotted a brand new publishing company called Little Creek Books that was planning on publishing YA books similar to ours. We whipped up the first few chapters of our book Sara Jane is a Pain and sent it to them. A few weeks later we got their approval AND they wanted our idea to become a series.  We don't have an agent YET. My mom is currently working on getting one. 

Did you have a book launch for each of the books? Do you do book signings and other book events? What are those like?

Madelyn:  We've attended MULTIPLE book signings in libraries, coffee shops, book festivals, book stores, etc all over Wisconsin and even in Virginia. I felt like I was taking a tremendous step outside of my comfort zone when we launched our first book signing. I was (and kind of still am) a very quiet and secluded person. However, books are meant to be read and shared, otherwise what is their purpose?  Also, we have done creative writing workshops.

Are your friends and other kids at school aware that you are a published author? What is that like? How do you handle it?

Madelyn:  Only some of my closest friends know I'm a published author. I have never purposely told them I'm an author. There would just be days where it would slip out or they would find my name on a book in the library and be like "what is this?!" Honestly, I don't think many of my classmates know that I am an author, but I'm fine with it. I don't like to be cocky. 

What are your other interests? What do you like to do beside write?

Madelyn:  For a while I was in synchronized swimming. Also, I've also been playing the clarinet for seven years and I currently work as a waitress at a retirement home. I'm also a huge Harry Potter geek. I love hanging out with my friends and family, they're USUALLY great stress relievers.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now? What is your all-time favorite book?

Madelyn:  I love to read (and write) all genres of books except horror. Sadly, I don't have the chance to read as much outside of school as I'd like to. Right now I just finished reading the books Jane Eyre and Great Expectations. I'm starting to break free from pop-culture books by reading classic literature. It's REALLY hard for me to choose my favorite book.

Are you looking ahead to college? A career? What are your plans for the future?

Madelyn:  Oh yes, I am definitely looking ahead to college. I'm more focused on future than my present right now. I'm planning on getting a bachelors degree in English and professional writing. Also, I want to minor in French. I have no idea what I should do for my future career. I have to be more than just an author. I think it would be fun to be a travel writer, but it would be a lot of work, too. 

Will you continue to co-author novels with your Mom? Are you writing anything else right now either with her or on your own?  

Madelyn:  Right now, I'm starting to branch off and write on my own. I came up with an outline for my next book and I've written the first three chapters. It's still a work in progress though, and each year I get less and less [time] to write, but more and more better ideas!

What advice do you have for other young people who want to write?

Madelyn:  My advice is to never give up, no matter your age or how busy you are. Also, never be afraid to share your writing! A book has no purpose if it is never read! 

~ My thanks to Madelyn Spindler for sharing her experiences at being a young published author. You can learn more about her and her mom, Rebecca Williams Spindler, on their Facebook page: Fans of SpindlerWriting.  Or check out her middle grade books on Amazon:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

10 Places to Donate Leftover Halloween Candy

Halloween has come and gone. Maybe the trick-or-treat crowd was low in your neighborhood this year and you have an unexpected bounty of treats that you don’t want hanging around the house.

Or maybe your own little ghosts and goblins hit the motherlode and came home with far more treats than your entire family can or want to consume in the weeks to come.

Whether edible or non-edible, and whatever the reason, if you have Halloween treats hanging around the house that you would love to share with others, here are some ideas for sharing the wealth.

Donate Leftover Halloween Treats To:

  • Nursing homes, assisted living centers, or senior centers

  • Community or neighborhood centers (especially those with afterschool programs)

  • Homeless shelters

  • Local food pantries
  • Churches or organizations that provide free meals
  • Your nearest V.A. Hospital
  • Domestic Abuse Shelters or local YWCA
  • Reverse trick-or-treat: fill small gift bags with left-over candy, attach a thank you note and deliver them to police and fire stations, local National Guard armories, or anywhere
  • Look for programs that send leftover Halloween candy to U.S. troops overseas. Often these programs are sponsored by local dentists.  Simple do a web search using the terms “donate Halloween candy troops” and your city’s name. Or…

Too many sweet treat may not be good for any one child or family.  But small amounts distributed among a large group such as those at nursing homes, homeless shelters, or U.S. troops can lift individual spirits.

So once the costumes have been put away, and the jack-o-lanterns thrown on the leaf pile, have fun with reverse Trick-or-Treating and spread the sweet wealth. 

Question: Have you done something creative with leftover sweets and treats from Halloweens past?  We’d love to hear more ideas. Please leave a comment below. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghost Hunting in Wisconsin: The Wausau Paranormal Research Society

Things that go bump in the night.  A cold draft where there shouldn’t be one.  A hazy image of a young man perhaps in a Civil War uniform.

When I was a teenager, one of my best friends claimed a ghost inhabited her house.  I was never quite sure. But she believed it was real, and I believed her. I do know that some odd things went on that we could never explain. Too bad we didn’t have Ghost Busters to ferret out the truth for us. Or even better, paranormal investigators.

Today there are a number of paranormal investigative groups throughout the U.S. One of them is based right here in Wisconsin—The Wausau Paranormal Research Society (WPRS).  And they love ferreting out the truth about things that go bump in the night.

I first read about these paranormal investigators in the LaCrosse Tribune.  Every year about this time (October) the group sponsors a haunted walking tour of historic downtown Wausau. 

According to the LaCrosseTribune article they also go on the hunt whenever they get a call about "doors opening on their own, apparition sightings, strange smells or objects moving by themselves."  The reason they do it?  To find out whether paranormal activity is actually occurring. And apparently, most of the time it's not. 

“We don’t go into an investigation thinking it’s paranormal all the time,” WPRS investigator Bill Beaudry is quoted as saying. “We don’t jump to the conclusion that every creak, every knock, every sound is a ghost. We try to find a logical explanation.” Often as not that explanation has to do with plumbing or the electrical wiring. But sometimes they can find no logical explanation. And on rare occasions they might capture an auditory recording or even a photo image of something that isn't supposed to be there. 

Shawn Blaschka and Jim Coscio of the Wausau Paranormal Research Society 
Photo by D.J. Slater of The Wausau Daily Herald, courtesy of
The team has quite an array of equipment with which to capture evidence of spirit life: digital video recorders, a night shot camera, an infrared sensitive video camera, various high-tech audio recorders, thermal probes, a variety of meters designed to detect changes in the electromagnetic field, vibration and motion detectors, a Geiger counter, and even a laser grid. They are determined to catch their ghost in the act—assuming there is one. 

Some members of the team have had paranormal experiences of their own. Co-director Anji Spailek told the LaCrosseTribune reporter about an investigation during which she spotted a person wearing a work jacket and work pants, except that there was no one in that part of the building but her. She followed the figure into the kitchen area, but by the time she got into the room it was already gone. 

At this point I was so intrigued I just had to find out more. So I contacted WPRS Director Shawn Blaschka by email and asked him some questions that had been haunting me. And he was kind enough to respond.

Shawn, how did the Wausau Paranormal Research Society get started?

Shawn: I joined the group in late 2000 when it was about 6 months old. By February 2002 disagreements with leadership forced the group to dissolve. I and another member immediately renamed the group and continued to operate as the Wausau Paranormal Research Society.

How did you learn to do what you do in terms of investigating possible paranormal experiences?

Shawn: Much of what I have learned was through reading various publications. My remaining education in the paranormal was received when I started with the original group and through years of experimentation along with trial and error.

About what percentage of your cases do you feel actually have a paranormal aspect to it?

Shawn: I would say maybe 10 to 15 percent have some form of paranormal activity or occurrences that can’t be readily explained.

Have you uncovered evidence of real ghosts?

Shawn: Proving the existence of ghosts is impossible at this point. Science demands that absolute proof or validation of a ghost must be able to be recreated in a laboratory setting many times over. I have captured evidence of what I think are spirits but again I cannot prove absolutely that they exist.

What do you do when you capture evidence of what you think are spirits? How do you follow up or help people resolve issues that you feel are truly paranormal in nature?

Shawn: Most of the help we provide comes in the form of education or validation of claimed events. Usually we are able to explain to the client what may be going on and then educate them regarding the issue at hand. Several times we have used the method of laying down ground rules. This consists of us speaking out loud to the entity and giving it rules to follow if it wishes to coexist with the present family living there. Of course the client must also follow rules as well for this to be successful.  We have had I would say about an 80% success rate with this approach.

Do you feel there are other paranormal explanations for some events other than “ghosts?”

Shawn: I think so such as telepathy, telekinesis, remote viewing, etc.

What is the most notable or unusual case your group has investigated?

Shawn: I think the place where we had the most unexplainable activity and captured the best photo of a spirit would have been at the Retlaw Plaza Hotel in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

[Note: Most paranormal activity at the Retlaw apparently centers around one room--#717--from which hotel staff and guests have heard screaming, banging on the walls, felt their hair being pulled, and experienced lights and faucets being turned on and off randomly. If you are interested in an overnight stay, you can check it out at]

Where, besides Wausau, have you gone to investigate paranormal reports? What is the farthest you have traveled to do this work?

Shawn: We have traveled all over the State Of Wisconsin. Also some areas of Upper Michigan and into Illinois. The farthest I have traveled to ghost hunt would have been Deadwood, SD and The Menger Hotel in Texas.

Do you and your investigators hold other jobs? If so, how do you balance work with paranormal research?

WPRS Member: (from top left): Sharon Williams, Sara Shaw, Nick Von Gnechten, Anji Spialek,
Shawn Blaschka, Bill Beaudry, Betsy Duginski. 
Photo courtesy of
Shawn: We all hold a “normal job”, ghost hunting is not a profit making venture. We don’t charge for our services and never have. Most of us just work around our schedules and make the time to do the research and spend the time with clients that need our help.

You have quite a bit of equipment listed on your website. How do you fund your equipment and your investigations?

Shawn: The only funding we have for the group comes from doing our Historic Haunted Walking Tours each October and through the sales of our book, Haunted Wausau: TheGhostly History Of Big Bull Falls. 

Do you get people calling you "Ghost Busters?" very often,  and if so, what is your reaction to that?

Sometimes we do but it is not what we are. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie but the title is disrespectful in our eyes. We don't get rid of ghosts, we try to help people through educating and finding non-paranormal explanations for our clients.

Are you affiliated with any other paranormal investigating groups? For instance, is there any kind of a national registry or organization that your group belongs to?

Yes, we are TAPS Family Members (Ghost Hunters from SYFY Network). We are area representatives under TAPS for the State Of Wisconsin.

~ My thanks to Shawn Blaschka for taking the time to fill us in on the work of the Wausau Paranormal Research Society and for all the WPRS team members for their work to delineate "where paranormal and reality meet." 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Finding Your Way Forward With a Life Coach

As I approached my retirement after 40 years of teaching, I found my head spinning with all the possibilities, worries, fears, and questions that come with a major life change. I turned to my friend, Mary Aleckson, a Life Coach. And to my amazement, in just a couple of sessions she helped me corral and organize my thoughts, prioritize my needs and wants, and envision my own path forward, addressing both personal and creative goals.

I had never used a Life Coach before and was intrigued by the profession. So I asked Mary some questions about her role as a Life Coach via email. Here is what she said.

Mary Aleckson, Life Coach
What exactly does a Life Coach do?

Mary: The simple answer is we coach! If you take the word “coach”, you might think of a “carriage”. A carriage takes you to a place you wish to go and so does a Life Coach. We develop powerful partnerships with our clients to help them design their future. We do this by asking powerful questions which get our clients thinking. 

It’s not therapy or advice giving, so we talk about present situations and ask where they want to go in terms of dreams and goals. We use an array of tools such as the wheel of life, metaphors, new perspectives, value clarification and more. These tools help to create new awareness which can benefit our lives and make it more fulfilling. We are trained and devoted to guiding others into increased competency, commitment and confidence.

What drew you to this type of coaching?

Mary: I am an educator with lay counseling and crisis intervention experience.  I am always looking for new ways to be a resource for my family and friends. Training to be a life coach seemed like a natural evolutionary tool to add to my educational repertoire.  After doing the research, I enrolled in the UW Dept. of Continuing Studies PLCC (Professional Life Coaching Certification) program. It was a nine month, highly rigorous programs which expertly prepares us as a trained Coach. Personally I was looking for a career which would provide flexibility to my schedule. I am hoping to coach for the rest of my life, I love it.

Have you ever been coached yourself? If so, what was that experience like?

Mary: Funny you should ask. It was a requirement for PLCC. My coach, Pam, was from Phoenix Arizona. She was also certified in mentor coaching so she was able to give me advice on starting a business, as well as personal goals. We spent quite a bit of time in class coaching our cohorts, too. In class we were free to discuss our coaching topics as long as we sought permission from each other. Otherwise, we learned that what we coach on is always confidential and will not be discussed with others. Being coached can sometimes create new awareness, which can be uncomfortable at times, but ultimately provides personal growth, which makes us a better and more productive person. It is important to experience what it felt like to be coached while learning the art of coaching.

What is your biggest challenge in coaching?

Mary: I had many challenges. My background is teaching, tutoring, lay counseling and a person willing to give advice or guidance on any topic at any time to any person. I love to do research and I read a lot, and folks would call me up for advice all the time. This included looking for jobs for them. I love it! Coaching, on the other hand, takes a different approach. We hold our clients to be creative, capable, and confident, and in charge of their own lives. So what this meant for me was that I had to learn to remain silent and ask questions and be a better listener. And trust the client will come to their own conclusions and direction in their own lives. As a teacher, I always had a good life lesson narrative to share, so I needed to learn it is not about me and my life lessons, but my clients. This challenge took some time to learn for me, but I think I got it now.

What has surprised or perhaps delighted you most as a coach?

Mary: Initially I thought it would be a wonderful trait to help others be more satisfied in their lives, but what truly surprised me was just how effective life coaching really is! Part of the requirement in class was to coach at least 50 hours for practice. I was delighted to know so many family and friends trusted me to coach them. Amazingly, it turned out to very beneficial for them and they said coaching really helped and some clients volunteered to write complimentary testimonials for my website, which I appreciated.  Coaching is about growth and change, so I was happy the PLCC program did such a nice job of training us to help make that happen.

I understand you are doing some pro bono (free) coaching. Talk about that for a bit, please.

Mary: There is a group of women from Indiana who came together to create a national program to help women wanting/needing coaching but couldn’t afford it.  It’s called Women for Change. It’s a win-win situation.  They screen the women and match them to a coach.  I have just been matched with a young woman from Texas. I will coach her for 12 weeks [for free]. This opportunity keeps me in the loop, plus it counts as paid coaching hours which I need for higher certification from the International Coaching Federation. W4C3 also provides free workshops for me so I can continue to receive CEUs.  Since most coaching is over the telephone, I have the opportunity to coach folks from all over America. Not to mention I feel it is a very valuable cause to help others in need.

What should people know or think about before hiring a coach or going to their first coaching session?

Mary: People should know that coaching really works. They should keep in mind it is not therapy. It is about where they are and where they want to be. I would tell them to be excited about coaching because it works. So if they are not ready to grow, or make a change, then it’s not for them. But if they feel stuck and would like to make a change, coaching gives them the ability to create new perspectives and awareness. The coach provides the technique and the environment to make it successful. 

They should know that coaching is totally confidential, nothing is discussed with anyone else. Since Life Coaching is about the individual, they can be coached on work, career, anything personal, health issues, relationships, or really anything. 

Expect the coach to use tools like the wheel of life, metaphors, values and value conflicts, or new perspectives. Most coaching takes place over the phone, so it is convenient. The first session is about designing our time together and what that will look like. And we suggest you come with some goals in mind. The coaching session usually runs from 30 to 60 minutes. Coaching can be once a week, every other week, or even once a month.  I coached a young woman who “got it” after one session.  I was happy for her.

What advice do you have for someone who might like to become a Life Coach?

Mary: Well, I don’t give advice (wink) but in my opinion if someone wishes to expand who they are personally and achieve their own goals, becoming a life coach can only make your life better and more enriched. Many folks in Human Resource find coaching enhances their departments. 

As far as starting a business, recognize that embarking on a new profession can take time, but with tenacity and patience (and a good coach) anything is possible. We are often advised to find a niche, as well, even though we are trained to coach any person and topic. 

Since my background is in Education, I created a coaching website addressing families experiencing learning, health, or emotional challenges, in themselves or their children called, Family Life Coaching Matters I also created a niche website called, Second Life Coach

If wanting more information the University of Wisconsin Department of Continuing Studies PLCC website is a good place to start. They are ACTP certified which means they meet all the requirements for an excellent program through the ICF.  

I would also recommend trying a coach first to see what it is all about. I offer a free coaching sample session for anyone interested in trying it out. Trust me you’ll love it! 

~ My thanks to Mary Aleckson for sharing her insights about the benefits of working with a Life Coach. If you've had a helpful experience with a Life Coach, please share with us in the comments.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe for Cooks Who Are Clueless in the Kitchen

This weekend I had a huge butternut squash sitting on my counter complaining that it was going to waste. It had been given to me by a good friend who plucked it straight from her garden as I looked on. When she'd asked if I’d like it, I was too embarrassed to fess up and tell her I had no clue what to do with it. But c’mon! Someone gives you a gift of love from their garden, something they planted and nurtured with their own hands? How cool is that. So I took it.

She mentioned that her husband loved her roasted butternut squash soup so there was my clue. Soup! 

Um, okay. I must have found two dozen recipes via Google. And all of them required that I roast the squash first. Well, one of them wanted me to roast half of the squash and use half of it raw. I don’t think so. In my kitchen it’s all or nothing. So I decided to roast it. 

How To Peel, Cut, and Roast Butternut Squash For Soup or a Side Dish

I used Ina’s method for roasting butternut squash. You know, the Barefoot Contessa? Love her! So down to earth. She even has a little video to show you how. Turns out there’s an easier way to roast butternut squash if all you want it for is soup, but I’ll tell you what I did first then I’ll tell you the easier way. 

Well, Ina didn’t tell me exactly how to peel and cut my butternut squash. For that I went to Simply Recipes.  Basically, you want to cut the bottom and top off the butternut squash so it sits flat and stable while you peel it. I recommend you get a serrated vegetable peeler. I used a cheap carrot peeler and my knuckles suffered as a result.

After you peel the squash, cut it in half. Be sure to use a good, heavy duty chef’s knife

Scoop out the seeds—a soup spoon will do. Then cut the squash into chunks. 

Toss the chunks with olive oil, kosher salt, and crushed black pepper. 

I roasted the chunks on a foil-lined cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. Ina recommends you turn the chunks half way through with a metal spatula. I’m sure that's a good idea; but if you forget, like I did, no big deal. I will say, the roasted squash chunks are yummy as is. They would make a great side dish, especially paired with asparagus. But my goal was soup.

How to Roast Butternut Squash the Easy Way for Soup

Here is what I didn’t do, but will do next time. Sooo much easier if your goal is soup. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds.  Lay the halves, open side up, on a foil lined cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil; salt and pepper liberally. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. 

When done, let the squash cool until you can handle it comfortably. Now scoop the meat of the squash from the skin and plop it into a bowl. How easy it that? Why didn't I didn't do that to begin with? What can I say? I'm a slow learner--truly clueless in the kitchen. But the upside is that now I know how to make yummy chunked squash as a side dish.

How to Make Butternut Squash Soup

Now that the squash has been roasted, using whichever method you prefer, it’s time to make the soup.

Here are the ingredients:

1 Butternut Squash, roasted (using your preferred method)
1 Granny Smith apple (for its tartness)
1/2 yellow onion (use a full onion if you're adventurous)
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tsp Ground Sage (or 7 Sage Leaves if you know what those are)
1 Garlic Cloves, minced (if you know how to mince garlic) or 1/8 Tsp Garlic Power (if you're like me, and that's all you have in your kitchen)
3 cups Vegetable Broth 
2 cups Water
1/3 cup of Half & Half
Salt & Pepper to taste                                       

Okay, so here's how to do it:

Start by peeling the Granny Smith apple, coring it, and cutting it into small chunks. 

Dice the onion. 

In a dutch oven pot, sautee the apple and onion in the butter. Add the sage and garlic. Sautee this mixture for about 7 minutes or until soft. Don’t let the onions get brown.

Add the roasted butternut squash to the sautéed apples and onions. Pour in the vegetable broth and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer it for about 15 minutes. 

Now add the half and half to the squash soup to make it creamy. 

At this point you will want to puree the chunky soup to make it more soup-like. You can do this in a blender or a food processor. Once pureed, pour the soup back into the pan to keep it warm on low heat. Feel free to add extra salt and pepper to taste. (Note: I didn't put salt and pepper into the soup mixture because I had added those ingredients liberally to the squash when I roasted it. Also, I tend to go light on salt; you might choose to add more.) You can also vary the amounts of the liquids (vegetable stock and/or half & half) depending on how thick & creamy or how soupy you like the end product to be.

Serve the soup in individual bowls and sprinkle nutmeg over it. 

I served the soup to my guests along with a good, crusty, multi-grain bakery bread on the side. It turned out to be a hit.

Give it a try!  If I can do it, you can do it.  And good luck!  

p.s. If you experiment and add something that makes your butternut squash soup zing, let us know!

Friday, September 25, 2015

5 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know About Pope Francis
Pope Francis, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, has been causing quite a stir this week with his visit to the U.S. cities of Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia. Throngs of people have turned out to greet him, listen to him speak, or attend Mass celebrated by him.  The 24-hour news media have provided pope coverage 24 hours a day during his visit.  U.S. political leaders invited him to address a joint session of Congress, and today he gave a speech to the U.N. General Assembly. Many of this country and the world's most powerful have gone to great lengths to shake his hand. 

And he, Pope Francis, in his usual humble way, has turned his attention during this U.S. visit to the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned. His message has been one of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and the need to care for the planet which God gave us to live on.

A Pope of Firsts

Most people know that he is the first pope to be born in the Americas; He is Argentinian, born in Buenos Aires. His birth name, which he used up until he became pope in 2013, is Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

He is the first pope to take the name of Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, an Italian saint who gave up a life of wealth in favor of extreme poverty and who believed it is the duty of all to protect nature.

He is the first Jesuit to become pope. Jesuit priests belong to the Society of Jesus, an organization founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500’s. Missionary work is their core, but they may be most famously known for their academic prowess and the large number of topnotch colleges and universities they have founded, including Georgetown, Boston College, and Marquette University. Jesuits tend to be “free thinkers,” which is maybe why there hasn’t been a Jesuit pope before now.

You might have even heard that he is the first pope in 110 years who refuses to live in the Vatican’s grandiose Apostolic Palace. Instead, he lives in a simple apartment in the Vatican guesthouse, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, (St. Martha’s House), on the edge of Vatican City. He has apparently said that he doesn’t like being isolated and he enjoys daily contact with ordinary people, which these more humble quarters allow. And of course, he refuses to ride in limousines, preferring instead his favorite used Fiat while in Rome and a modified Jeep Wrangler Popemobile for his U.S. visit.

5 Interesting Facts About Pope Francis

Much is already known about this very public man, but there may be some things you hadn’t heard. For instance,

1)  Pope Francis has nine Twitter accounts! Each is in a different language. His English language Twitter account has 7.34 million followers (as of this posting). Worldwide his number of followers is second only to that of U.S. President Barack Obama with somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million global followers. However, with an average of 9, 929 retweets-per-tweet, he is considered the most influential tweeter on the planet. 

2)  Pope Francis once held a job as nightclub bouncer. Obviously, this was before he joined the priesthood. He also worked as a janitor, sweeping floors, and as a chemical technician which is what he studied in college before he got his advanced degrees in philosophy and theology.

3) You can probably guess that Pope Francis is a soccer fan—a HUGE soccer fan by his own account. He has been a lifelong, passionate supporter of Argentina’s San Lorenzo football team. He has said that his love for that particular sport and team is "part of my cultural identity."  But you might not know that another part of his cultural identity is that he used to dance the Tango! He has admitted to a biographer that he “loves tango” and that there was a certain young woman that he used to share his love of tango with.

4)  It might not surprise you to learn that when Francis, then Jorge, was promoted to Cardinal in 2001 he asked those who supported him in Argentina not to come to Rome to attend the ceremony, but instead to take the money they would have spent on the journey and donate it to the poor. Nor to learn that in 2005 he supposedly came in second in behind Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was then elected Pope Benedict XVI upon the death of John Paul II.  However, did you know that Pope Francis’ mother did not want him to become a priest in the first place? According to Francis, she eventually acquiesced and even asked for his blessing once he was ordained.

5)  Pope Francis was the proud owner of not one, but two Harley Davidson motorcycles for a short while. A very short while, it turns out. The motorcycles were originally intended as a gift from Willie Davidson, grandson of the original founder of the Harley Davidson company, to Pope Benedict XVI to commemorate the 110th anniversary of that famous company in 2013. In fact, that pontiff had blessed and signed the two gas tanks the previous year. But Benedict abdicated before he could take possession of the Hogs, and so they ended up in Francis’ garage. Hand-me-downs, I guess you could say.

Both cycles—a Dyna Super Glide and a Heritage Softail Classic—along with a leather Harley Davidson jacket signed by Pope Francis—were sold at auction, with the Dyna Super Glide fetching around $327,000 in 2014. One lucky rider managed to snag the Softail Classic for a bargain price of $67,700 a year later. The leather jacket?  Reports are that it was snatched up for somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000. All proceed went to the Pope’s favorite soup kitchen charity in Rome.

There are no reports of Francis having ridden either of the Hogs, but c’mon! A soccer-loving, tango-dancing former nightclub bouncer who defied his mother and refuses to ride in limousines? Can’t you just picture it? Sneakin’ out after dark… shrugging on the leather jacket…v-room v-room…!

What goodies have you heard about this popular Pope?  Post your comments here. I just love hearing about this man!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Discovering Maria Popova's Brain Pickings

I have recently retired from forty years of teaching. It was a rewarding forty years, and I have to admit my job defined me. Most people look at retirement as the ending of something, but I see it as the opportunity to embrace something new in my life. I don’t expect to stop teaching. At some point, after the wonder of having whole days to do nothing or to do whatever I want, I expect to either tutor, find a part-time job, or volunteer as a teacher. Teaching is a skill set I have no intention of letting go of.

But I am also an avid learner and a writer. So, three weeks ago I took a deep breath and stepped away from my teacher desk, walked out the door of my school, and took the plunge into the next adventure in life. I’m still figuring out what shape that adventure will take, but poking around, I have come across some interesting guideposts.  One of those guideposts is by a blogger I have only just discovered: her name is Maria Popova and her blog is called Brain Pickings.

From what I gather, Ms. Popova contacted a few friends in 2006 announcing her intention to start “a weekly digest featuring five stimulating things to learn about each week.” Apparently her Brain Pickings became so popular that her readership grew from the few friends to over a million readers from all over the world. I, of course, am generally late to the party, so it looks like I have nine years of Brain Pickings to catch up on. But I look forward to exploring Ms. Popova’s backposts.

What first caught my attention, however, was an entry from October of 2013 titled, “7 Things I Learned in 7 Years of Reading, Writing, and Living.” In this short essay, Ms. Popova explained that she is often asked to offer advice to young people who are just beginning their own voyages of self-discovery, or to “those reorienting their calling at any stage of life.” That would be me! And while she doesn’t like to use the word “advice” she does offer these seven tidbits of “learning.”  Here they are in the short version:
  • Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
  • Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone.
  • Be generous.
  • Build pockets of stillness into your life.
  • When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them. 
  • Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity
  • Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.
Of course, she expands on each of the above and gives credit where credit is due. I recommend you read her entire post for yourself.  But when I think about the people in my circle that I admire the most, they seemingly embrace (likely naturally) most if not all of these precepts and live their lives being generous, being present, willing to work on their passions over the long haul, and do it for satisfaction rather than prestige, status, or money (most of which they attain regardless).  I’d love to say these seven tidbits of learning are the mantra I live by, but I have to admit that they are only what I strive for.  But striving is good, right? 

Maria Popova also lists her seven favorite Brain Pickings posts, which provide a good starting point for exploring her blog, the first of which is the intriguing sounding “The Art of Looking: What 11Experts Teach Us about Seeing Our Familiar City Block with New Eyes.”  I am off to read that one.  Perhaps you will, too?

Let me know in the comments if you find one or more of her posts that particulary speak to you. I'd love to hear from you!