What’s Your Word?

Hello again–I’m back! I took a long break from my own blog so I could write for some amazing nonprofit organizations. I decided it’s finally time to get back to my own blog and tell some of my own stories.

So, I’ll start by sharing my “WORD OF THE YEAR.” (I’m only about a month late).

It’s a thing, you know. Back in January, everyone was revealing their Word of the Year. There are even articles like this one from Inc. that help you choose your word. Your official word is usually connected to your goals–that’s how it works.

My FB friends have chosen words that are beautiful and meaningful:  Simplify. Create. Pause. Affirm. Adventure. Balance. Family.

All good choices! You can even go to Pinterest to find Word of the Year ideas.

I was telling my husband about this trendy new ritual, and he decided he would have his own Word of the Year.

Without missing a beat, he chose this word:


Me power napping on the beach.

Yes, nap. I told him that can’t be his word; it isn’t inspiring or uplifting or motivating.

Then I read Daniel Pink’s book When (a Wall Street Journal and Washington Post best-seller) that talks about the secrets of perfect timing, and there it was on page 75–“How to Take a Perfect Nap.” He even has a nap guide to boost mental and physical health.

I guess “nap” is a legitimate Word of the Year.

So here’s mine. It’s not effervescent and it’s certainly not sexy.



This works for me because it’s what I need now in my life, as I balance working at home, growing my business, training for triathlons, strengthening my faith and making healthy choices.

Developing good habits takes discipline. And being disciplined requires being rested. Time for a nap!

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments (1)

No Easy Way Beyond This Point

IMG_4374 2 2.jpgDo you sometimes make a choice because it’s the easiest thing to do? You aren’t up for a challenge or have a high tolerance for risk?

I saw this warning sign during a trip to Park City this past winter: No easy way beyond this point.

At the top of the mountain, I had a decision to make: go forward, and there would be no turning back. I knew if I chose this route, it would be steep. There would be bumps along the way.  I might lose control. The warning was clear: it would be difficult and there would be no turning back. 

I turned around and took the easy way down. I wasn’t ready for a black diamond run.

But now I am. In my career, I’m ready to take a risk  and carve my own route down the mountain. I’m moving toward the “no easy way” sign and venturing out on my own, piecing together consulting jobs and take the bold step of being in control of my career.

What’s holding you back

When I started this journey, trying to decide what’s next and how to get there, a respected colleague and mentor asked me, “What’s holding you back?” It’s easier to stay where you are than step out of your comfort zone.

If you’re considering a bold move, here are some words of encouragement I received from friends and colleagues who help me along my journey.

  • God equips and enables. Act as if God will provide.
  • We are our best when we are truly being who we are.
  • You are worthy of being in a place where you are valued.
  • Make a choice: what is your boundary on what you’re willing to tolerate?
  • You’re in charge: what you do is up to you.
  • Pray it into existence.

The Sound of Hope at 4:30 am in Haiti


When I visited Haiti several years ago, I woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of voices. The sound of children singing. In one of the most destitute countries in the world.

Perplexed, I crawled out of my sleeping bag and found my way to the balcony in the darkness of the morning, lured by this harmonious sound. Was I dreaming?

I sat alone on the balcony. I could barely make out a crowd of young Haitians from The Children’s Home where I was staying, all gathered in the wee morning hours, starting their day in song. Their voices were full of hope, joy and gratitude as they sang praises to the Lord.

The 70 children who live in this home, run by Haitians and supported by Hearts and Hands for Haiti here in the U.S., begin their day singing before doing their chores. It was mesmerizing to peer over the balcony into the darkness, hearing only the sweet singing of children.


When I think of my trip to Haiti, I think of this music. These children. I’m sharing this memory to encourage you to slow down for a minute. Take a deep breath, be grateful for what you have, and take 40 seconds to listen to the sound of hope. If all you see in the video is darkness, that’s all there is. Just listen.

Click here to hear the sound of hope at 4:30 am in Haiti 

These children may not have parents, or parents who are able to take care of them. But they are strong enough to rise at 4:30 am and begin their day with the Lord, in song.

It’s a lesson in discipline and gratefulness that we all can learn from.


Ryan’s Inspirational Story gets 1 Million Views


Ryan is one of the happiest and most determined kids you’ll ever meet. His inspiring story has been seen by more than one million people across the globe on a video blog called Special Books by Special Kids. It has generated more than 1,000 comments.

His mother Johnna wanted to share the inspiring story of Ryan’s progress with a voice device that helps him communicate. When she heard that  Special Books by Special Kids was coming to Raleigh to interview a few select families, she applied to have Ryan interviewed.

Chris Ulmer is a special education teacher who travels with a video camera and a big heart. He documents the stories of special needs kids like Ryan. His mission is to grow a multi-media movement that spreads empathy, understanding and acceptance for the special needs community.

(Click photo to view video)


The videos on Special Books for Special Kids will make you laugh and cry. Ryan’s video gives you hope.

Johnna, who is an artist, an art teacher and a substitute teacher, is a fighter for kids with special needs.  Her favorite classrooms are the special Ed rooms. She has been a powerful advocate for her seven-year-old son Ryan. Here’s just a sampling of how this mother took her passion and determination to make a difference in her community:

  • She helped start a project and raise money for adapted swings for Hilburn Academy.
  • She helped complete an adaptive playground project at Leadmine Elementary.
  • She raised money for AMBUCS so that other kids could have a special needs bike like Ryan.
  • She raises funds and collects supplies for First in Families, a nonprofit that provides support to people with developmental disabilities

Johnna and Ryan are both resilient. I have witnessed the challenges, like when he could not crawl, when he could not feed himself, when he could not stand up on his own two legs.

I have also witnessed the small wins and huge milestones.  Johnna shares videos of Ryan eating Cheerios with his own two hands; crawling up the stairs, lifting a 2-pound ball over his head, and communicating with his “Nova Chat.” One of the most touching videos was watching Ryan “race” down the track with his walker at the Wake County Special Olympics.


Take a few minutes to meet Ryan and hear the voice of a mother who has pushed beyond limits with the help of doctors, therapists, nutritionists and other specialists who believe in Ryan.


Special Books by Special Kids

First in Families



With the Darkest Days Behind us, this is our Journey Forward with Alzheimer’s

My mother’s painting during the better days of her disease.


One of the worst days of my life was five years ago when I was in crisis: my mother was in the confused and angry stages of Alzheimer’s, and my father was dying from prostate cancer.

She didn’t understand he was dying. And she was getting in the way.

My sister and I called the one resource we had relied on through the varying stages of the disease: the Alzheimer’s Association. I called the director’s cell phone after hours and she gave us the most unexpected advice: “Move your mother out. Let your father die in peace.”  She said that as soon as your mother is settled in a facility equipped to care for Alzheimer’s patients, and your father knows that she is taken care of, he can let go.

She was right. We moved my mom, and my dad died the very next day.

The memories of that day are still painful: We told my mother to kiss my dad goodbye, and we were going out to lunch at a new “restaurant.” It was the dining hall of a facility for Alzheimer’s patients.  

I knew my mother would never see my father again. Her powerful disease was too much for his weak soul.

I have pushed these agonizing memories far, far away.  Even now, as I tell my story to explain why raising money for Alzheimer’s research is so important, my eyes are swelling with tears. We needed help in a crisis. The Alzheimer’s experts helped us navigate the difficult decisions like this one, and an even harder one a few days later.

So why now? Why am I sharing the harsh reality of decisions families have to make when caring for someone with Alzheimer’s? Because next Saturday, Sept. 24, I’ll join hundreds of Triangle residents in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. I didn’t decide to do this on my own: the financial services firm my husband works for, Edward Jones, is the  National Sponsor of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. They’ve partnered with the organization to raise awareness and support research. 

I’ll join Andy and the Edward Jones family and walk in memory of my mom, Diane Schumacher.

I’m sharing my story so more people know how valuable the Alzmeimer’s staff and resources were to our family. Not the doctor, not the nurses, not the facility, but the Heart of America Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association in Kansas City. Here’s just a sampling of how they supported my family:

  • My mother and father joined support groups; one for the patient, one for the caregiver.
  • My mother participated in an Alzheimer’s Walk, just like I’m about to do.
  • They provided options and resources for respite care and caregivers.
  • I joined a chat room in desperation of getting help from others going through the same challenges.
  • They advised us about medications when we disagreed with the doctor’s prescriptions.

The association supported my family through the entire journey: my parents in the beginning, and my brother, sister and me through the end. One of the staff members even came to my father’s funeral. My mother couldn’t come. Why? Her disease. It wasn’t possible.  

I can share more stories of the the difficulties we faced, like when my mother got angry and combative at the Alzheimer’s facility, and they had to admit her to the emergency room. I can’t bear to talk about what happened, other than to say they sent her away for a few weeks to calm down. Those were the darkest days of the disease. That’s why we need to find a cure.

I want to end on a positive note: in addition to the staff at the Alzheimer’s Association providing guidance and support, we met an angel at the facility where my mother lived for three years. Her name was Cozetta. Thanks to her, my mother was well-cared for and loved for three years until that morning when she finally let go in 2011. We called Cozetta at 5 am; she wanted to be by her side in her last moments.  

Most of us know someone dealing with a family member who has Alzheimer’s. If you have been touched by this disease, think about showing your support. Here’s Andy’s donation page. We’ll be walking in memory of my mom. 

Advice from The Gambia: “When we collaborate, our impact becomes even greater”

As college students head back to campus this week,  I cannot stop thinking about Balanding Menneh, a young man I met from The Gambia.

Balanding balanding 1is a junior at the University of Arizona. He’s studying biological sciences, and started his own nonprofit called Rural Impact. Its mission is to empower women and farmers in rural communities to become food secure, and to eradicate hunger in a sustainable way.

I met Balanding at the Universities Fighting World Hunger Conference last spring, when I presented him with the Clinton Hunger Leadership Award on behalf of Stop Hunger Now. He was poised and articulate as he accepted the award on a stage in front of 300 college students and faculty from across the country.

But before the banquet, Balanding shared his story with me about his education in his native country, and what led him to the University of Arizona.

At a young age, Balanding had to walk three hours to elementary school. Since there was not a high school in his village, it was arranged for him to travel and stay with a guardian several hours from home. He said his guardian taught him “to be the best I can, and excel in anything I do.”

His hard work in school paid off. Balanding was one of only two people from The Gambia that was awarded the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship, a four-year scholarship awarded to promising young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa. He said he never dreamed he could attend college in the U.S. After he graduates, his ultimate goal is to help his people back home. He spent this past summer in Senegal studying locust outbreaks and how they impact crops.

Balanding told me, “We can’t say it is possible to end hunger, then sit back. Hunger is a global problem. It affects all of us directly or indirectly.”

This fall, I’ll be thinking about Balanding, and what’s ahead in his college career and beyond. His advice works for anyone wanting to make a difference in the world: “I have come to understand that ending hunger requires collaboration because it is an extensive problem that no single entity can solve. We can make a tremendous difference individually, but when we collaborate with others and share best practices, that is when our impact becomes even greater.”


“We can make a tremendous difference individually, but when we collaborate with others and share best practices, that is when our impact becomes even greater.” –Balanding Menneh

“How is your walk with the Lord?” asks my Haitian friend


John Noel Preval, aka “Chicken John,” is one of the funniest people I know. I met him in Haiti five years ago, and we immediately bonded as he shared Haitian proverbs. As he attempted to translate them into English, many didn’t make sense, so we were both roaring with laughter.

We became fast friends and I promised to write when I returned to the U.S. We are still corresponding, five years later. And still cracking jokes and laughing.

Many Americans travel to Haiti, make new friends, and promise to keep in touch. Preval wrote, “You are a woman of your word.” That meant so much to me. I valued our friendship, and made an effort to keep in touch with my new pen pal.

We write about our families, his life in Haiti, and some of the struggles his country faces. We talk about his work with the church. I commented about how long the church services are in Haiti (two hours or more) and he said, “We don’t have much work, so we have nothing else to do!” He’s so funny. But he’s also a deeply religious man.

One time he emailed me and said, “How is your walk with the Lord?”

What’s that? It caught me by surprise. I was so focused on talking about our jobs, and children, and making jokes, that I forgot about our shared faith. He was prompting me to remember what’s really important.

Preval always signs his emails, “Our trust is in the Lord.” He tells me, “I am praying every day for your family.” I often imagine how difficult life is in Haiti. Yet he is always so positive. He is filled with the Spirit.

“How is your walk with the Lord?” I love how Preval phrased that question, and it has stayed with me. It’s a good reminder to reflect on your journey, think about where you are in your faith, and where you are headed.

Thank you Preval, for not only making me laugh, but for reminding me what it’s all about.



My friend Preval when he visited Raleigh, and dear friend Darlene, whose father heads the Children’s Home supported by Hearts and Hands for Haiti.