The quotes make the story

As a journalist, sometimes you get to write a story that you feel good about. Not necessarily because the story is happy or ground breaking, but because you know in your gut that you’ve written a good lede and your interviewee gave you strong quotes and the whole thing just flows.

That’s how I felt about this piece that I wrote last week for the Wilmington News Journal. It features Abby, an 11-year-old girl who was picked on for years because she was born with large ears that stuck straight out from her head. In August, the Little Baby Face Foundation paid for her to receive corrective surgery to tuck her ears back. The story follows the journey of both Abby and her mother Carol.

Though Abby is truly beautiful, the story is not all happy. Unfortunately, it is certainly not groundbreaking, as bullying is a part of life for many students across the country. But the quotes make the story. I hope you have a few more minutes to read it.

Categories: Journalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Laugh often

“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” — Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was a film and fashion icon during Hollywood’s Golden Age. She was also an avid humanitarian, devoting herself to her work as a UNICEF ambassador from 1988 until her death in 1993. Her first week on the job took her to famine-ravaged lands of Ethiopia.

Though I had always heard of this beautiful actress with whom I shared a name, I had never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie until last fall, when I borrowed my roommate’s copy of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I immediately fell in love, searching out additional films from her vast repertoire.

This quote from her is a personal favorite of mine, for I also love to laugh and I always work to surround myself by others who laugh, make me laugh and appreciate my sense of humor. I love how many different kinds of laughter exist in the world. Each person’s laugh is unique, like a fingerprint, with its own tones, notes and lengths. It can convey a range of emotions, from nervous anticipation to pure joy.

And yet, despite its many motivations, laughter is a universally recognized expression. It is powerful. A high, graceful waterfall of notes can pull attention from across a loud, crowded room. A low belly laugh makes as indelible an impression in the memory of a child as the image of the man in his bright red suit. The smile that accompanies heartfelt laughter transforms one’s face, offering, in a moment of unguarded expression, a glimpse beyond one’s surface. Almost contagious, it pulls you in and draws you out, encouraging you to join.

Laughter also serves as an incredible stress reliever. No matter how organized you are, there will be moments where everything goes awry, and as the old cliché goes, you can either laugh or cry. As someone who has done her fair share of crying over the last few years, I must say laughter is definitely my preferred course of action. It gets it all out without the effect of a post-mini-breakdown headache.

I am blessed to come from a family that shares this general philosophy. Dinner at my house is better than most sitcoms, and if somebody hasn’t almost choked before the end of the night, then we just aren’t on our game. Do any of you remember that commercial about the family dinner where the dad ends up with milk coming out the nose? Yeah, that’s my family, and I can’t imagine wanting it any other way.

Throughout this final fall semester, I have noticed myself laughing quite often. After a rough few years, it has been great to rediscover this simple, small, uplifting action that I hadn’t even realized had been missing.

Sometimes it takes a long time to learn the most obvious lessons, but life is simply too short to waste on people or things that do not fulfill us or bring out our best. Don’t let anyone or anything take your joy from you. Life in this world can feel like a battle, but strength can be found in the most unexpected places.

Laugh as often as you can.

Categories: Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Balance & ballet

The lights glint off the hardwood floors and reflect back from two walls of mirrors. Across the room, the black barre beckons from below a thin line of windows.

Light chatter penetrates the silence as individuals begin to lace up their shoes and perform the routine ritual of stretching. Sweaters are cast off with slight shivers and shoes click as the dancers make their way to the barre, sure in their knowledge that the winter chill in the air will disperse in minutes.

I take my usual spot in the back corner of the room, carefully setting one hand on the barre, and place my ankles together, toes pointing to opposite sides in first position. Ms. Suzanne, tiny, spry and energetic for any age, shows us the first combination, a pattern of pliés and tondues. So class begins.

My mom enrolled me in ballet classes when I was 5 years old because I wouldn’t stop spinning circles around the kitchen as she tried to cook dinner. Thirteen years later, I danced my final class as I prepared to leave home, and the Detwiler School of Dance, to go off to college.

One of my only regrets from college is that I was unable to find a new class to continue my lessons. I remember dance so vividly: spotting on the old clock as I completed double turns, the click of the wooden stick as I learned to fouetté, the swoosh of the leather soled shoes on the floor during a rond de jambe, the excitement I felt the day my first pair of pointe shoes arrived, the disappointment at the realization that I couldn’t wear them right away because I had to sew on the laces, the 15 bobbi pins I religiously used to pull my bangs off my face, even though strands were always falling out by the end of the class. Even though I have never found a class, I have brought my pink tights, black sleeveless leotard, sheer black skirt and supple pink leather soft shoes to school with me every year.

The lessons I learned from, and the love I have for, ballet have never been far out of focus.

Ballet teaches strict discipline, seeking perfect technique and lines. It teaches you to push yourself, to lift your leg higher, to perform the beat quicker, to control your turns. But it also rewards you for your hard work and your effort. It feeds the soul, releases stress and tension in the body the individual so often abuses. It sets the spirit free as it soaks up the euphoria that accompanies a flight through the air or the perfect finish of a pirouette.

But perhaps its most important lesson is that of balance. You cannot be a ballerina unless you can learn to balance. You will never dance on pointe if you cannot remain steady as you move on your toes. You will never finish a turn upright if you do not keep your eye on a target and keep your balance in check.

But balance is not only important in the physical aspect of our lives. To be happy and healthy, balance is vital in many areas. We must balance work and play. We must balance the influences we allow in our lives, with a few to keep our heads in the clouds, but also a few to keep our feet on the ground. We must balance the attention we give friendships and relationships. We must balance healthy food and habits with little indulgences. We must balance our finances, lest we slip into a hole. We occasionally walk a fine line between societal and moral obligations, and we must learn to balance in that situation as well. And we must keep a careful balance within ourselves, neither letting the negative constantly bring us down, nor letting the positive consistently disregard reality.

However, we must also make sure that this quest for balance does not overwhelm, or it will defeat the purpose.

When you land that perfect leap, don’t be afraid to soak up that feeling and smile.

Categories: Dance | Leave a comment

Handyman heroes

My Daddy can do anything.

He can build cabinets and shelves, fix appliances, run electrical wiring and plumbing, repair heating and air conditioning, tar rooves, lay flooring, pour concrete, fix cars, install windows and rig just about any device under the sun.

He can make me laugh when I cry, and cry when we fight. He makes the world’s most delicious salmon cakes and cabbage rolls and never tells a joke without the proper amount of flair. He tells stories about his rowdy, bar-hopping, motorcycle-riding days of working on the oil rigs in Oklahoma. Then he remembers that I am his daughter and promptly advises that I not follow all of his footsteps.

He loves green beans, boiled potatoes, goldfish crackers and, of course,  my Mom.  He shakes his head when I tell him I haven’t checked the oil in my car for three months and routinely asks for the address of the first boy who broke my heart, just in case he’s ever “in the area.”

The sky could fall down and I wouldn’t be worried, because my Daddy could save the world.

But even though he is my hero, to many people my dad is simply the handyman, the technician, the AC and heating guy, the plumber, the electrician — a hero in the moment, but often quickly forgotten. 

An entrepreneur, he ran a business with my mom for 10 years. If an elderly couple called at 3 a.m. on a cold winter evening because their furnace stopped working, off he went to save the day (or night, as the case may be). If a friend or brother was caught in a bind and needed help on a job of their own, they knew they could count on him to be there. If his instincts told him that the customer was caught between a financial rock and a hard place, he would work to find a creative way to fix the problem in an effort to reduce the cost of the house call. If a problem was simple, he gave advice over the phone to help the homeowner fix the issue, even though that meant he wouldn’t make any money for his expertise. He never tried to sell a customer something he knew they didn’t need. 

And even though he was always ready to handle an emergency, he never missed a single ballet recital, volleyball game or academic awards ceremony. He beamed the day I graduated high school and helped me choose a leather jacket the night before I left for college. 

Even now that I’m off at school and he’s working for a larger company, he is still my hero. Just this past summer, he took the day off so he could be there with my mom and brother to see me off to Africa and meet me at the airport when I returned. He always has time to talk, even if he is at a job site and I call to say that the kitchen sink in my apartment is broken again, but I have my toolset ready so where do I start?

Today is National Tradesmen Day. Often unappreciated or disdained, tradesmen offer services and talents that are incredibly valuable, but we think of them only when something breaks. They receive the brunt of our impatience and frustration, because they can fix something we can’t. 

National Tradesmen Day is an opportunity to correct this impression and show them that they are appreciated. Even if you just make a quick phone call, your action will bring a smile to the face of a well-deserving individual. Take a moment today to thank your own handyman hero. 

As for mine, he is working with my brother this weekend to install and sand a new hardwood floor for my mom’s kitchen, but I know that she will make sure he reads this post. 

Thank you, Daddy. I know you’ll always have my back.

Categories: Beautiful people | 1 Comment

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